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However, there are problems and concerns for us in the Bill. They mostly come down to certification of what is Scottish-only business. Tuition fees is a very good example because it shows why we have to be careful. There must be a Scottish input into the commission, perhaps from someone who knows about the workings of the legislatures throughout the United Kingdom—for example, former Presiding Officers. There should be good contacts with the Scottish Government, who could alert the commission, or whoever examines the matter, of genuine difficulties and consequences for Scotland. The Bill fails in that respect because it provides only for Secretaries of State to advise the Speaker about certification of the territorial impact of legislation. Perhaps an amendment could be tabled in the other place that would allow the Secretary of State to consult his or her opposite numbers in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that those legislatures are relaxed and happy about the territorial certification of specific measures.

Tuition fees sum up the difficulty for me, and for us all. Tuition fees are nominally English. Under the certification that the Minister and the hon. Member for West Worcestershire have in mind, the Speaker would almost certainly have said that the measure was English only. Yet it was an absolute disaster for Scotland. It was the worst possible type of legislation for us and we therefore voted on tuition fees—I think that all Scottish Members did. I voted on it because the Barnett consequentials were enormous. Scotland will lose a fantastic amount of money if England goes ahead with tuition fees. The measure also opened up a funding gap between Scottish and English universities. That would have been fine if we were independent—it would be our business and up to us to get on with it. However, as a devolved nation, we do not have any other economic tools to help us deal with those sudden issues. We are left with our fixed budget. It is therefore right that, as long as we are part of the Union, we express our concerns about what might be considered English-only legislation.

If we reach a solution, I hope that there will be consultation with the Scottish Government to find out whether there are huge issues for Scotland, which we have to tackle as long as we are part of the Union. I was grateful to the hon. Lady for saying that financial aspects would be included in any future draft of such a Bill. It is imperative that they are included.

I believe that the job of we Scottish Members is to ensure that the Scottish interest is represented, and that nothing is done that would have a detrimental impact on our constituents. That is why we all voted on the issue of tuition fees, and I think that we were right to do so. However, there are other Bills that do not have the same impact on Scotland. We should leave them well alone, and I believe that we will continue to do so for as long as we consider them at Westminster.

Thomas Docherty: The hon. Gentleman is advancing a relatively cogent argument. Does he agree that the Secretary of State is the wrong person to make the judgment specified in the Bill?

Pete Wishart: I do not care who eventually makes the decision. I am quite happy for it to be the Speaker. The only issue that concerns me is the need for consultation

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with the Scottish Government. They must be able to say that they are comfortable and relaxed about the fact that legislation applies only to England. The House must recognise instances in which legislation will have knock-on effects on the Scottish Parliament. The tuition fees legislation in particular was disastrous for Scotland: we had to deal with a number of unforeseen consequences because of issues in England.

I welcome what has happened, and I congratulate the Government on eventually doing something about this problem. The hon. Lady has led them by the nose. I do not know whether it is the Liberal Democrats who have been blocking such action, but they are just about the worst offenders in this regard. Their number is massively inflated in relation to their share of the vote in Scotland, but they come down here and consistently vote on England-only issues. As well as having a quiet word with their one Scottish Member about voting on England-only issues, the Conservatives should have a quiet word with their coalition partners, because, as I have said, they are just about the worst offenders.

As we proceed, we should ensure that we consult and involve people who deserve respect because they have done the groundwork that was required for the establishment of our Parliament and Assemblies in Scotland. We are getting closer to Tam’s answer. I have presented my solution, and thankfully the Scottish people see it as a solution as well. For the first time in three years, support for independence in Scotland is now in the majority. We are approaching the point at which the Scottish people will have an opportunity to decide on the future of Scotland, and about whether we should come to this place at all. I believe that we are about to experience one of the most incredible defining moment in Scottish history, when they say yes and the hon. Members for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), for Dunfermline and West Fife, for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) and for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr Roy) will no longer come down here to vote on English issues. I cannot wait for that day to come.

12.12 pm

Iain Stewart: It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), and I accept much of what he said. I do not often agree with the Scottish National party, but I agree with him that his party has a neat solution at least to the Scottish dimension of the West Lothian question, namely that Scotland should become separate from the rest of the United Kingdom.

I will not be tempted into a debate on the merits or otherwise of separation; suffice it to say that I completely oppose it. I am a proud Unionist, and I will do all that I can to prevent it from happening. However, the Union is under threat. That is why the Bill is so important, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) on presenting it. The Scottish nationalists secured an overall majority in the election in May, giving the lie somewhat to Labour’s assertion in the devolution debate that devolution had killed nationalism stone dead. In fact, nationalism is in rude health, and if we are not careful, we will be going down the road of separation.

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Part of the problem lies not in Scotland, but in England. I have the advantage of being a Scot representing an English constituency, and a fair number of constituents complain to me about the fact that certain matters affecting only England can be determined by Members from Scotland. I am not suggesting that we have reached a crisis point, but bit by bit the resentment is growing. If we do nothing and let it lie unchecked, at some point in the future we will find ourselves in very difficult constitutional waters, and the Union will be threatened.

Mr Harper: My hon. Friend demonstrates something. It is sometimes said by those in the House that only Conservative Members are concerned about the issue, but the reason they are concerned is that our constituents are concerned. We do get a significant number of letters about the matter. I do in relation to a range of issues, including tuition fees, and decisions that are made. If we do not deal with the matter, we will have a problem. My hon. Friend has made an important point.

Iain Stewart: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. It is important that we address these points when we are in relatively calm waters. There is not an impending crisis, so we can take some time to consider the matter carefully. I welcome the announcement yesterday of the commission. I await with interest the answers to the pertinent questions that my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire asked about the composition, remit and time scale of that commission. It is right that it should take its time and examine carefully the complex issues that it will deal with, but I sound a slight warning note: that should not be an excuse to kick the issue into the long grass and so far into the future that it never reaches a conclusion. I would like to see a specific timetable showing when the commission will report and we can take matters forward because, as I say, doing nothing will stoke up big problems.

We have heard from several Labour Members their objections to the Bill and to other possible solutions to the West Lothian question, but we hear absolutely nothing about what their solution would be.

Thomas Docherty: I am very clear. I hope that what comes out of this is some proposal to put to the people. It is bizarre that the one proposal that has not been mentioned is to ask the people what they think. We should put in a referendum a proposal to them about how to resolve the issue. It has to be through some assembly, so that we do not deal through the back door with all the issues that I and the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) have been raising with the Minister.

Iain Stewart: I am rather puzzled by the hon. Gentleman’s comments. I am not clear whether he wants a separate referendum from an independence referendum or an English Parliament. Is that what he is suggesting?

Thomas Docherty: I am suggesting that there be a constitutional convention, as there was in Scotland, at the end of which a proposal is put to the people of England about the legislative system that they want.

Iain Stewart: It is an intriguing suggestion and I invite the hon. Gentleman to submit that idea to the commission. I am not sure whether he speaks for the

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Labour Front-Bench team on that proposal. Perhaps a promotion is in order, but my key point is that doing nothing is not an option and we have to address the issue. I agree that we should not create a separate class of Member in the House and start banning certain Members from debating or voting on specific measures. Whether a self-denying ordinance could apply is for individual Members to decide, but there is a workable solution, which I alluded to earlier. I call it a double majority, where we do not exclude any Member from voting on a particular measure, but where, if a measure applies only to one territorial part of the UK, it has to secure the support of a majority of Members from that area as well as of the House as a whole. That is a matter that should be explored further.

I will not speak any longer because I want to see the debate come to a timely conclusion, but I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire again. She has moved the debate forward substantially and I look forward to the Minister's comments in response to her questions.

12.19 pm

Mark Lazarowicz: I am delighted to be able to follow the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), who has made some important points. If I did not do so earlier, I certainly add my congratulations to the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) on the way she has taken the Bill forward and tried to engage in debate on the issue. I do not for one minute underestimate or diminish the danger to the Union that could be posed by a feeling in England that the present arrangements, whereby MPs outside England can vote on these issues, are unfair to English constituents. I accept that that could undermine the strength of the Union, which I certainly would not want. However, I put it to the hon. Lady, the hon. Gentleman and other Members on the Government Benches—those who are still present—that the Bill’s proposals are equally damaging to the Union and to better governance of this place. They are very dangerous, which is why I have concerns about the Bill.

The complexity of Bills is at the heart of some of the objections to the proposals. With respect, I say to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) that that cannot just be laughed off as easily resolvable in most cases. Many pieces of legislation that appear to apply only to one part of the UK actually have implications for the rest of the UK. We have heard about high-speed rail and the health service, for example. Let us say a Bill to privatise the NHS in England were being debated in this place and the votes of Scottish MPs—even including Scottish National party MPs—were crucial. As such a Bill would clearly have possible consequences for Scotland at a future date, does the hon. Gentleman really think people would understand why we did not vote on it because it nominally applies only to England? We cannot simply write off such issues as easily addressable. Concern about Scottish MPs voting comes to a head in respect of controversial measures such as tuition fees. Such issues do not arise on only a few occasions; there are many Bills that have implications across the UK even though they affect only one part of it in direct legislative terms.

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The Bill addresses certifying whether or not a Bill applies to England only. If that were all that this issue involved, it might not be so objectionable. However, the issue is not just certification; it is also voting on Bills. Do the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) and his like-minded colleagues who contributed to the debate really think that simply certifying a Bill as only applying to England but then having MPs from outside England voting on it would satisfy their constituents who have raised this issue? Their objection is not just to certification; it is also about those who vote on such Bills. I do not think this Bill will meet the concerns of those who feel they are being given an unfair deal by the post-devolution constitutional arrangements.

I therefore think the Bill would be the first stage on a short road to real pressure being applied on certain MPs not to vote on issues that only affected England. As the SNP is unlikely to form part of a coalition Government here in Westminster—although one never knows, as stranger things have happened—that might not be a problem for its Members.

Tom Greatrex: My hon. Friend is touching on an important point about the SNP position. In his contribution, the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) suggested he would never dream of voting on English-only legislation. I had a slightly different recollection of his party’s position, however, and interestingly a check of the record reveals that on 26 April 2010 the First Minister and SNP leader, Alec Salmond, said he would, indeed, consider voting on English matters were his party to form part of a coalition.

Mark Lazarowicz: That proves a point.

If MPs representing constituencies outside England were barred from voting on issues affecting only England—the same position would, I assume, apply in respect of other parts of the UK as well—there might, effectively, be two Governments at Westminster. When I said that might be the case, some Government Members clearly thought I was painting an extreme picture, but the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South has more or less accepted the point. His position is that the consequence of the road down which this Bill wants to go is that a measure that applies to English-only areas could pass only if it had majority support not only from the House as a whole but among MPs in England.

In effect, that would mean that for government within England we would on many occasions end up with some kind of quasi-coalition. If a Government did not have a majority of MPs in England, they could not get their programme through. They would either have to have no programme at all or would have to depend on other parties to get a majority. That might require a new form of coalition Government—I am quite in favour of coalition-type approaches, proportional representation and the rest of it, much to the chagrin of some of my hon. Friends, but it certainly is a new road to be going down. That seems to me to be the obvious logical consequence of the position put forward by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South.

Alternatively, if the UK Government party had a majority of seats in the UK but not in England and another had a majority of seats in England, the other party would be able to get its programme through for

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England on the “devolved issues” that apply to parts of the UK and we would therefore effectively have two Governments. That possibility is not that far-fetched—it is quite easy to see how different electoral arithmetic could have that result.

Any suggestion that that analysis is somehow far-fetched prompts an important question: let us say that we had a UK Labour Government who were against NHS privatisation—I am not trying to rehash earlier debates—and a Conservative Government in England who were in favour of some form of privatisation. If that Conservative party had a majority in England to force through its policies, would it not try to do so? Of course it would. It would try to represent what it thought were the best interests of the country. It is not at all inconceivable that we could end up effectively with two Governments in this House when it came to matters that applied only in England.

Thomas Docherty: I just want to make an observation. I have heard the remarks from Government Members about the growing sense of anger among some constituents. How much anger does my hon. Friend think there would be among the constituents of a party that was nominally in government but was unable to get its Bills through even though the Secretary of State and Prime Minister were from that party? How angry would people be then?

Mark Lazarowicz: They would be very angry, and would be entitled to be if they were supporters of a party that supported a UK-wide state and could not get its policies through.

The problem that not having Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish MPs voting on English-only matters raises is very real and I do not think that some Members have fully thought through its consequences. Once a Government with a majority in the House could not get through parts of their programme and if Opposition parties could get through parts of their programme, the consequences would go beyond the House of Commons and Parliament. The civil service and Departments would increasingly be put in a situation where civil servants would wonder who was in government if their Minister had executive authority over certain matters but could not guarantee getting policy through the House because Opposition parties could get theirs through. That would begin to cause some issues with how the Government’s systems operate.

Some might say that what I am saying is far-fetched, but once we go along this road the consequences can develop more quickly than some might think. That is why the proposals that are being put forward for effectively English votes only for English MPs have difficulties and dangers. They could cause the type of division, anger and animosity that would cause further tensions in the Union, which I want to maintain. I have no objections to the commission being set up by the Government on this issue, although I suspect that finding the answers to the questions will not be so easy.

The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) mentioned Tam Dalyell, and of course his point in raising the West Lothian question was that he objected to devolution per se. He thought the alternatives

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were either a full-scale Union or the hon. Gentleman’s preferred solution. That shows how hard it is to answer this question.

We must ask whether the West Lothian question—as the Minister has pointed out, we should not call it that—is such a fundamental question that it must be addressed. If it must be addressed, is this the right way of addressing it? I suspect that the concerns underlying this matter are not really about voting but about money. There is a feeling of concern among some people in England that the financial arrangements between Scotland and the rest of the UK are somehow an unfair deal. There has been a lot of debate about this issue in the House and there is plenty of evidence that that is not the case—Scotland gets more in some respects, but then some parts of England get above the average while other parts of England get below the average. There are also all the issues about oil resources, taxation and so on to consider. Once we get into all that I suspect that the reality is that Scotland is not “subsidised” in the way that people suggest. A bit more transparency may address some of those issues, so that is something to welcome in the work that Treasury Ministers are doing. If spending, which I suspect is the real issue rather than voting, could be addressed, that would resolve some of the concerns.

On the voting issue, I wonder whether the problem is really so great that it requires this solution. The Union has never been a perfect, symmetrical arrangement. From 1603, and the Union of the Crowns, and from 1707 with the treaty of Union there have been lots of anomalies, which have come about primarily because there is one big member—England—and smaller members in the Union. People have tried to get perfect symmetry over the years but have not been able to achieve that. Do we really need that perfect symmetry if the cost is to be disruption of the kind that these measures would cause to the way that this place operates and to the government of the UK? If the issue is really so great that it requires a solution that is going to address it completely, the only answer will be something like an English Parliament or Assembly with devolution to England of those issues that are currently devolved to Scotland, Wales and so on. I suspect however that that would not solve many of the concerns of those hon. Members who want to address this issue. If the West Lothian question has to be answered, that is probably the only way. I certainly am not convinced that it can be met.

I am not closing my mind to any of the suggestions that might come from the commission that the Minister is going to set up, but I heartily endorse the view of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire that it should not be just an internal, Westminster parliamentary commission but that it should draw on expertise from all the devolved regions of the UK. It should draw on academic and political expertise. I accept that it should not be something that goes on for years and years, eventually disappearing into the long grass, but it needs to be done comprehensively and in the round. This issue may seem relatively minor in terms of how it can be addressed in parliamentary terms, but once we go down this road there is a real risk that we will undermine the fundamental nature of the House and the way that we govern, thereby causing further tension between different parts of the Union, which is the last thing that any of us who want to keep the Union alive want to happen.

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12.32 pm

Mr Nuttall: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz). I am glad that in his opening remarks he recognised the danger of allowing the current situation, in which English constituents feel that the constitutional settlement is unfair to England, to continue.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) on piloting the Bill through the legislative minefield of Report and Third Reading today. Being drawn as high as seventh in the private Member’s Bill ballot gave her a flying start, and she has taken every advantage of her good fortune. In highlighting the gross unfairness that is encapsulated in what we all refer to as the West Lothian question, as it has been referred to for many years, she is doing a great service not only to her constituents but to constituents throughout the country.

Like the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), I was not here for the Bill’s Second Reading, so that Division was unfortunately one of the few in which I have been unable to take part. In fact, that Division shows the importance of attending and voting, because the Bill passed by only two votes on Second Reading. Had I been here and voted, that majority would have increased by 50%.

The sense of unfairness about the fact that Members of Parliament from, for example, Scotland can vote on legislation that affects my constituents but does not affect their own is keenly felt by many of my constituents. During the general election and the years that I was campaigning in Bury North leading up to it, that issue was brought up on the doorstep many times. It is all the more puzzling, therefore, that some 15 months after the general election we are hardly any closer to resolving the problem. The Bill might not solve the problem in its entirety, but it is a step in the right direction.

Although I appreciate that the West Lothian question is not entirely simple or straightforward, I am sure that many of my constituents will find it difficult to understand why so little progress has been made towards resolving a matter that has been on everyone’s mind for decades. It might well be a difficult problem, but is it really so difficult that it should take 15 months simply to prepare and issue a one-page statement which tells us no more than we knew before yesterday—that the Government intend to establish a commission to consider the West Lothian question? We still do not know the commission’s membership or terms of reference. Many will rightly wonder, as I do, why these matters could not have been under consideration for the past 15 months and dealt with before now. I suspect that they would have been, had we had a purely Conservative Government.

The Bill may not be the complete solution to the West Lothian question, but it is a step in the right direction. I am happy to support the Bill’s progress today, and should it pass on Third Reading today, as I genuinely trust that it will, I wish it well in the other place.

12.37 pm

Mr Leigh: We have had a very long debate, but the issue is terribly simple. I agree with virtually everything that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has said—apart, of course, from the end game of what he is trying to achieve. The rest made

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sense. The issue is actually extremely simple, as becomes clear if we look at both the Bill before us—which is what we are supposed to do anyway on Third Reading—and our Standing Orders.

The Bill, actually, does not pose innumerable political problems for either side of the House. All it says, under the heading “Duties of the Secretary of State”, is:

“The Secretary of State must, when publishing draft legislation, ensure that the legal and financial effect of that legislation on each part of the United Kingdom is separately and clearly identified.”

It is as simple as that. It does not actually address the substance of the West Lothian question, but something that can address the substance of the West Lothian question is already in our Standing Orders.

It is so simply put in Standing Order 97(1):

“After any public bill has been first printed, the Speaker shall, if of the opinion that its provisions relate exclusively to Scotland, give a certificate to that effect”.

The House within five minutes next Tuesday afternoon, if it wished, could simply pass a motion to amend its own Standing Orders so that they read, “After any public bill has been first printed, the Speaker shall, if of the opinion that its provisions relate exclusively to Scotland or England, give a certificate to that effect”.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) has said—some of the points that he made were quite good—that there might be great political consequences. There would not, because as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Oliver Heald) has said, Standing Order No. 97 is not a closed Standing Order, because it gives a route to the House and the Minister. Once the Speaker has given his certificate, that is not the end of the process, because Standing Order No. 97(2) states:

“On the order being read for the second reading of a bill so certified, a motion may be made by a Minister”.

To respond to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, if there was doubt about whether the tuition fees Bill related exclusively to England—on the face of it, one might think that it would relate exclusively to England, given that it concerns education—because of a possible knock-on financial effect for Scotland, there could be communication through the usual channels. Despite the Speaker’s certificate sending the Bill to Grand Committee—the English Grand Committee in this case—I am sure that we could accommodate the SNP, because our Standing Orders are sensible and, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire has said, we have to live together in this place. In such circumstances, we could say that the tuition fees Bill should not be given to the English Grand Committee and that it should not be considered exclusively by English Members. There is therefore a neat and elegant solution to the problem.

Despite four decades of debate about the West Lothian question, we could move in a slow and traditional way—in a Fabian way, if I may say so; not a revolutionary way—to solve the problem. We could simply amend our Standing Orders and develop a procedure, bit by bit, through which exclusively English legislation would be referred to an English Grand Committee, so that only English Members would vote.

If that approach was such a problem, why, during the time we have had Standing Order No. 97—throughout the 20th century and, for all I know, the 19th century—has

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no hon. Member said that there was a great problem? There was no great debate even between 1992 and 1997. At that time, if the Speaker issued a certificate to say that a Bill was exclusively Scottish, it would be considered by the Scottish Grand Committee, on which the Labour party would have had a big majority, and there was no argument. If there was an insuperable problem with extending the remit of Standing Order No. 97 to England, one would have expected that the measure would have been the subject of great debate in the past, but that was not the case.

To return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), if the Government wanted to act, they would not need a commission. We would not need even the Bill, because all it does is say that the Secretary of State will express an opinion about how legislation will affect particular parts of the United Kingdom. The Bill is completely harmless, because it ties neither the House nor any Minister.

Thomas Docherty: I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not a Fabian—I probably never will be a Fabian—but the difference between Standing Order No. 97 and the Bill is that clause 1 provides that the Secretary of State will make the determination, not the Speaker. Does he agree that that shows the political danger in the Bill?

Mr Leigh: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, because that point was the one grain of truth in his speech. It increasingly worries me, because I wonder whether we are wrongly politicising the problem. We all know that the Bill, like all private Members’ Bills, is fundamentally a campaigning Bill. We acknowledge our debt to my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), because she has achieved a huge amount through her campaign by actually getting a commission set up, even though it is entirely unnecessary.

I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife. If I thought that the Bill, if enacted, would tie the hands of the House and politicise the process in such a way that a Conservative Education Secretary could determine that a Bill was exclusively English and therefore stop any Scottish Member voting on it, I would have my doubts. However, while my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire may tell me that her Bill is more ambitious than I believe, I can read only what it states:

“The Secretary of State must, when publishing draft legislation, ensure that the legal and financial effect of that legislation on each part of the United Kingdom is separately and clearly identified.”

The Bill does not say that the Secretary of State will decide whether a Bill is exclusively English; all that will happen is that there will be more knowledge. The Speaker would make his determination, but even after that, if my proposal were accepted, the Minister, in consultation with the other parties, could decide that a Bill—relating, say, to tuition fees—should be discussed on the Floor of the House. There is absolutely no problem or difficulty about it.

Hundreds of thousands of words have been talked about the West Lothian question—about how it will divide us, and about how there would be two classes of Member and all the rest of it. That is complete nonsense; we have always had several classes of Member. There have always been Ministers and Back Benchers. There

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has always been the Scottish Grand Committee, and nobody has said that it would lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. The Speaker issuing a certificate to say that a Bill is exclusively about English education will not break up the United Kingdom. It is so simple; why do the Government not do it?

Mark Lazarowicz: I do not think that the Bill that put into effect the poll tax in Scotland went to the Scottish Grand Committee, but the hon. Gentleman was here then, and I was not, and I may be wrong in my understanding. For lots of entirely non-controversial Bills, an English Grand Committee would not be a problem, but when it comes to controversial Bills, a difficulty might arise, in that Bills might have a majority in England but not be able to carry a majority in the House. That would raise the issue of a Government not being able to operate in a coherent way unless they had a majority in England, as well as in the UK as a whole.

Mr Leigh: Between 1992 and 1997—and following the 1983 and even 1979 elections, when there were large Conservative majorities but a decreasing number of Scottish Tory MPs—I remember that there were huge debates about the poll tax and the rest of it, but I do not remember that there was any specific argument about the provisions of Standing Order No. 97. Of course, it would still be in the gift of any Government to say, “This is such a large issue”—the hon. Gentleman mentioned the poll tax—“that we want to consider the legislation on the Floor of the House,” but that does not mean that Standing Order No. 97 is wrong. It does not mean that anybody argued against it. It does not mean that a Standing Order No. 97 could not be created for England, so I do not understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making.

I suggest that there is a simple, clear, elegant solution. The Government may, by all means, set up the commission if they want to, but they have to get on with the issue now. They have to make some progress. My solution is there; they should get on with it. Although I have talked in House of Commons terms about Standing Orders and all the rest of it, which sounds fairly esoteric, there is a huge political issue, which the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire has identified. It is that we have to make some concession to the English public, who are rightly outraged that so many issues that exclusively concern England are voted on by Scottish Members of Parliament, although those measures will not affect them.

I say to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), who represents the Conservative constituency in Scotland, that he should not vote on English business, any more than I should vote on Scottish education. Indeed, I cannot vote on Scottish education. He should have a self-denying ordinance. I very much hope that when the Minister speaks, he will intimate that he will get on and solve the problem. He is the only one who can solve it, and he can do so within our Standing Orders.

12.49 pm

Mr Harper: I am pleased to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. This morning, Mr Deputy Speaker was very generous in allowing some latitude.

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If I may, I shall deal first with the questions from my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) about yesterday’s written ministerial statement on the West Lothian question. That may be helpful to the House, because that is what quite a lot of the debate has focused on, and then I shall talk about her Bill.

On timing, my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) has referred to the importance of dealing with the issue at a time when it is not a live political issue and when we are not in a crisis. He is consistent, because he made the same point in February on Second Reading. I responded by making it clear—I hope that this will reassure my hon. Friends the Members for West Worcestershire and for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh)—that the Government accepted that the issue needed to be dealt with in this Parliament. It is important to deal with it before it gives rise to a constitutional crisis—in fact, that would be a very bad idea. I said that it would be

“better to deal with the question…in an atmosphere of relative calm rather than to solve it hurriedly in an atmosphere of crisis.”—[Official Report, 11 February 2011; Vol. 523, c. 638.]

I said that hon. Members, particularly those of a Unionist inclination, would agree that it would be better to deal with the matter when we can look at it calmly and reflectively rather than when we are being pressed to do so in a rush. I said so then, and I repeat it in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South. I hope that that reassures colleagues that the Government intend to deal with the matter and not to kick it into the long grass, as some have feared.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire had a number of questions, which she set out very carefully, about the commission, including the timing of the announcement. We made it clear in the statement yesterday that we will undertake a short consultation with Mr Speaker and other parliamentary authorities on how the commission can best address procedural matters in the House. We want to make sure that it can come up with a solution—or a range of solutions—that is workable and practical, which we could then debate and put into effect. There is no point in introducing solutions that simply would not work.

I said in the statement that I expected after that short consultation that we would introduce formal proposals on the membership of the commission and its terms of reference in the weeks—note the plural—after the House returns in October. My hon. Friend said that we had previously indicated that we would make those announcements this year, so Members can work out very quickly that it will be between the return of the House on 11 October and its rising for the Christmas recess.

My hon. Friend wants to know what the out date would be. I am afraid that on that one I am going to have to disappoint her, but I hope that I illustrated in my response to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South that we intend to deal with this and make sure that we do. I do not think that it is quite as speedy to deal with as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough has suggested, because there are consequences to the different solutions. For example, it may be the case that Bills cannot be certified as England-only because there is a varying devolution settlement across the United Kingdom. They may not apply in Scotland, because the Scottish Parliament has the relevant

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powers, but they may cover England and Wales and, indeed, Northern Ireland. They may not be England-only Bills—they may have different effects across the United Kingdom. It may not be possible to have a complete read-across from Standing Order No. 97, but that might be one of the solutions. My hon. Friend’s suggestion of next Tuesday may be a little hasty, but given that he has suggested that the debate in its present terms has run for four decades—the general issue about how the United Kingdom is governed has run for hundreds of years—I do not think that the progress that we have made is as tardy as some have suggested.

Thomas Docherty: Will the commission examine what will happen with Government new clauses? A Bill may apply to only one of the four nations but, during its passage through the House, the Government may table a new clause that applies to more than one nation.

Mr Harper: That highlights the complexity of the issue. It is one reason why, as I have said, the Bill does not provide the solution, as it applies only to draft legislation. As the hon. Gentleman said in a previous debate, legislation can change significantly between its draft stage and its introduction. Indeed, sometimes that is the point of introducing draft legislation and consulting on it, as we want to listen to what people have to say. A legislative solution is not satisfactory to deal with the problem, because it would open up procedures in the House to the courts, which is something that I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House do not want to do. The commission would need to examine that legislative process.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire alluded to the question whether there was a difference between the coalition partners. I can assure her that although the two coalition parties come at the issue from different angles—the Liberal Democrats have always preferred a federal solution—the policy being set out is in the coalition agreement, the statement that I issued is the collectively agreed position of the Government, and there is no difference of opinion on the issue. The parties want to make progress and move forward.

Mark Lazarowicz: To be clear, I think the agreement between the Minister's party and his absent friends is simply on the commission. I do not think they have any agreement on the solution, if I am right in my understanding.

Mr Harper: The hon. Gentleman is right, but we want to solve the problem and we want to make sure the solution is workable. He may want to come back, but let me deal with some of the other aspects that I set out yesterday.

On the membership of the commission and the scope, we set out yesterday what it would and would not cover. Typically when the issue has been discussed, the West Lothian question has fallen into three components. One has been the representation of the different nations in the House. Another has been money—the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) touched on that—and the third has been the processes of the House.

On the representation of the different parts of the United Kingdom, we have dealt with that in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill,

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so every part of the United Kingdom will be equally represented in the House. On the money side, I think my hon. Friend mentioned that we would not be dealing with that. We have made it clear that there may be issues that need to be dealt with in relation to the Barnett formula, but the time to tackle those is when the deficit has been dealt with, not now. We have made it clear that the commission will not deal with those financial matters. They are significant and raise a range of questions, but the commission—much to the relief, I am sure, of those whom we will ask to serve on it—will not be tasked with that responsibility.

I heard clearly the views that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) set out about some of the questions that the commission might need to consider. I welcome any thoughts that other Members may have about the scope of the terms of reference. The hon. Gentleman identified an important one—the interaction and the agreement between Parliament and the devolved legislatures about whether the particular areas fall within the devolution settlements and if they do, whether those devolved legislatures are content for us to legislate here. I have noted that and will bear it in mind.

The commission will be set up by the Government, so the terms of reference will be set by Ministers. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Oliver Heald) made the point that the House operates in a consensual way and we do not want Standing Orders to turn into a battleground. We have said that there will be a full opportunity for the political parties represented in the House to have their say following the completion of the commission’s work. Clearly, that will have to take place anyway, because if we were going to legislate or change Standing Orders, there would have to be a debate and a vote in the House, but we want to make sure that when the commission has set out some workable solutions, we talk to parties in the House to move as far as is possible in a sensible way forward.

Oliver Heald: I fully appreciate that my hon. Friend wants to consult the House authorities on how best to frame the commission and the way in which it works, but can he guarantee that the Clerks of the House and the experts we have here will be able to have an input to the work of the commission, so that their expertise is fully taken into account by its members?

Mr Harper: My hon. Friend puts his finger on exactly the point on which we wish to consult Mr Speaker and the parliamentary authorities. We want to make sure that the deliberations of the commission are informed by the way the House works, and that when it proposes possible solutions, they are workable and practical and will not have unforeseen consequences. We need to think through the consequences and have a properly informed debate so that Members know what they are supporting when we bring forward those solutions. That is exactly why we will have a short process of consultation with Mr Speaker.

I return briefly to the short exchange yesterday when the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) raised his point of order and you, Madam Deputy Speaker, were in the Chair. I returned to the Chamber but had

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not heard all of the point of order. I said that I would read it, as I have, and would respond to it. As I said in response to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, the Government will listen to Members’ thoughts about what should be encompassed within the terms of reference. Nevertheless, it is a commission that the Government are setting up to fulfil their own coalition agreement. I listened to what he said, though, and I am happy to listen to what other Members have to say. I hope that the hon. Member for Rhondda, who I am disappointed is not here to take part in this debate—


I see that other Members share that view. I hope that he will look at


and feel that I have responded to and dealt with his point of order, although strictly speaking it was not a point of order—that was your ruling yesterday, Madam Deputy Speaker. None the less, I hope that he will feel that I have answered it properly. On those points, I also hope that I have satisfied my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire.

My hon. Friend asked how the commission’s recommendations will be enacted. To some extent, that will depend on its recommendations. Clearly, if it recommends a solution with a legislative basis, there will need to be a Bill and it would have to be dealt with in the usual way within government. However, it is entirely possible—perhaps even likely, given what I have said about the Bill—that because it relates to how the House operates, the solution would be a matter for the House and Standing Orders. That would clearly need a different set of solutions. However, given what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South, I hope that I have made it clear that the Government want to solve this problem. The commission is the mechanism for laying out some workable solutions, and I hope that she will find that of comfort.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) talked about the 1990s and the process of devolution, and he said that it was not yet complete. One of the problems is that this was not thought through properly. The Labour Government thought through some parts of it, but did not think about how England would be governed in this devolved era. They did that partly because it was a difficult question and partly, I suspect, because some of their interests were different. The fact is, however, that devolution, which we support, has had consequences, and we just need to work through them and deal with them sensibly. Of course, I do not need to answer his other point, because my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire has adequately demonstrated to the House that our right hon. Friend the noble Lord Strathclyde is, indeed, Scottish and resides in Scotland. He defended him so well that I need not trouble the House on that point any further.

I have dealt with the points raised by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire. I want to deal with two points made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz). He is right that this is a complex matter, but I think that he confused or muddled up government and legislation. The Government cannot always assume that they will get their legislation through. They might well have a pretty decent chance of getting it through this House, although some of the legislation that I have been involved in has required a fair bit of persuasive work with my colleagues in the Conservative

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party, not just with Opposition members—


I hear agreement on that. In the other place, however, where the Government do not have a majority, it is not a foregone conclusion, and Ministers have to undertake a process of persuasion and consultation, and often have to make concessions. Even Governments with a majority in this place cannot take legislating for granted. Furthermore, aside from legislative issues, Ministers have many powers and executive responsibilities that do not involve legislation. I think that he was guilty of confusing those issues.

Mark Lazarowicz: Of course I accept that the Government can never guarantee the passage of legislation through either House. Surely he must accept, though, that there could at least be potential difficulties if a Government with a majority in the House could not rely on a majority on a wide range of issues falling under this English-only provision. At the very least that has to be considered seriously by his commission.

Mr Harper: I accept that there is a problem; I just thought that the hon. Gentleman overstated it. There is an issue, though, and it is important that we look at how the House operates. We had a debate about different classes of MPs, and about a recognition of the Government and the Opposition. Clearly, if some of his concerns came to pass, we would need to consider whether they affected how the House operated, which is exactly why we need to ensure, as we said in the written statement, that the commission comprises people with constitutional, legal and parliamentary expertise—so that we think those consequences through.

Thomas Docherty: I am most grateful for the advice that the Minister is so generously giving, but can he say a little more about the relationship between the commission that he is establishing and the debate about reforming the other place—in particular about how one defines a peer, which I mentioned in my speech, and how that would work between the upper House and the commission?

Mr Harper: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asks that. Clearly peers are not elected at the moment, so in no recognisable sense do they come from different parts of the United Kingdom. As we take our reform proposals forward, this issue clearly has the potential to pop up in the other place. If we come up with a sensible, workable solution in this House, it could simply be adopted for the way a reformed second Chamber works, when we are—as I hope we will be—successful in making progress on our reform proposals.

Thomas Docherty: I am most grateful for the straight face with which the Minister said that last sentence, but given that 20% will still be appointed and that those appointed are intended to reflect the UK balance of the House, how would the Government reconcile a UK-balanced upper House with an English-balanced lower House?

Mr Harper: I will give the hon. Gentleman a brief answer, because I fear that if I give too wide an answer, Madam Deputy Speaker will tell me off for straying into House of Lords reform. I am surprised that he made that remark about a straight face because it is his party’s policy to have an elected House of Lords. That

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was what those on his Front Bench in this House have said. We all have Back Benchers with different views, but that is his party’s policy, so I will hope that he will support it as we make progress. Members appointed in the other place when it is reformed will not be party appointees; they will be independent Members from a party perspective. I am therefore not sure whether their geographical origins, about which the hon. Gentleman has expressed concerns, are necessarily that important. Those Members will not represent geographical parts of the United Kingdom, so the West Lothian question does not really apply.

Thomas Docherty rose—

Mr Harper: I will keep going along this line for as long as Madam Deputy Speaker permits me.

Thomas Docherty: Let us take an individual who, for argument’s sake, comes from Scotland, lives in Scotland, has a broad Scottish background and has no interests in England, but who is appointed to the upper House. Would that not simply exacerbate the West Lothian question?

Mr Harper: It may do, but those are questions that can be dealt with when we debate House of Lords reform. We can deal with the West Lothian question as it pertains to this elected House now; I am sure that those other questions will provide yet another exciting avenue of debate later. Indeed, I suspect—and fear—that some in the other place may have noted the hon. Gentleman's concerns and may, even as we speak, be formulating concerns that they have not had before and that we shall have to address.

Let me turn to the Bill. As I said when we debated the amendments, in drafting her Bill my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire sensibly stuck to draft legislation, so that—as she and I have discussed before—she was in no danger of opening up the internal processes of this House and how we legislate to the courts. That was the right thing to do. However, in a sense, that has meant that her Bill, although an excellent vehicle for debate and exploring the issues—something that all Members have found useful—does not really present a solution. Indeed, the Bill does not even present a partial solution, because it cannot be the solution for actual legislation. For those of us who represent seats in England, our constituents are not really concerned about draft legislation; they are concerned about actual legislation and actual spending. Her Bill and the approach that it takes cannot apply to actual legislation because it is legislative in nature.

Apart from that, as I said when we discussed the amendments, the Government already set out clearly the territorial extent of provisions in actual legislation. Indeed, I gave the House some examples on Report of the different ways in which that is explained in various Bills. That is already done, and in a way, that is not the difficult part of the process. Rather, the difficult part is what follows from saying that Bills apply to different parts of the UK. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire made it clear that, because of his party’s approach, it has had no trouble in identifying legislation that affects different parts of the UK or in making decisions about how to vote. I do not think that

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that is the difficult part. I think also that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough shares that view. The Bill does not move us further forward in that regard. It merely adds legislative bureaucracy and some uncertainty, and, certainly from a Conservative perspective, we do not want to legislate when it is not necessary to do so. Passing legislation that takes us no further forward is not appropriate.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire referred to the democracy taskforce, a Conservative thing that was chaired by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), now the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary. As she said, the taskforce did not think that a full version of English votes for English laws would be desirable. It also looked at a modified version that would allow English Members into the Committee and Report stages of English-only legislation, while allowing the whole House to vote on the rest. It decided that there was no perfect, neat, tidy, no-loose-ends solution to the problem, and that the answer lay in making some improvements and moving forward. Looking into that approach in more detail will be a task for the commission.

I think that we have made some progress. I hope that I have been able to convince my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire that the wait for the membership and terms of reference of the commission will not be a long one, and that the Government are committed to resolving the problem and not leaving it to fester until it becomes a crisis. Her Bill had to be very narrow because of the difficulty of legislating in this area, and it is not the right one. I therefore urge her to withdraw it at this time, and I look forward to her engaging thoroughly with the commission and putting forward her views to it.

I would just caution Members on the matter of Mr Speaker certifying Bills, as this is an area in which we would do well to think through the complexities. Certifying Bills is not an uncontroversial matter. I think that one or two Members might have been a little blasé about it. There has already been some debate in the other place when Mr Speaker has certified Bills as money Bills under the terms of the Parliament Act. I remember, when I was taking the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill through, the remarks made in the other place by the former Speakers, Baroness Boothroyd and Lord Martin. They were unhappy about the proposals for the role of the Speaker in certifying motions of no confidence, saying that that could draw the Chair into areas of controversy.

We need to ensure that the things that the Speaker takes into account in making such determinations will not draw the Chair into party political controversy. That might not be as simple to achieve as colleagues think. On uncontroversial Bills that are not a matter of huge debate between the parties, the Speaker will be able to make those determinations without attracting any criticism. When highly charged matters that could have significant political consequences are involved, however, we would need to consider whether getting the Speaker to make such decisions could endanger the impartiality of the Chair and risk drawing him into political controversy.

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My hon. Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire made a point about the flexibility that is built into Standing Order No. 97, whereby, if the Speaker made a ruling in a controversial situation, it would be possible for the Government, and other parties through the usual channels, to make decisions to protect the neutrality of the Chair. Those are the kinds of issues that the commission will need to think about.

It would have been relatively straightforward to rush into establishing a commission, but it might have produced answers that were incapable of being delivered or on which there was no agreement. The process that we have undertaken, in a more thoughtful way, will mean that we have a commission that will be able to deal with the issue and put forward solutions on which there will be a considerable amount of agreement. I urge my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire not to proceed any further with her Bill, but she can be confident that she has done the House and the country a service by instigating this debate, and perhaps also by holding the Government’s feet to the fire to ensure that we make sufficiently swift progress.

1.15 pm

Harriett Baldwin: With the leave of the House, I would like to answer some of the Minister’s points and thank everyone who has spoken today, either in support of or against the Bill. A wide range of interesting points have been made. I agree with the Minister that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) was a little optimistic when he said that the matter could be sorted out by next Tuesday.

I welcome the fact that the Minister made it clear that he does not intend to kick the issue into the long grass. He also reassured us that the consultation that is under way on setting the terms of reference for the commission, its membership and who might chair it will be short. He gave us a great deal of confidence that we would know who those people are by 31 December. That is reassuring.

However, we still need to discuss some of the points that I raised earlier. The Bill provides for all proposed legislation to include, on the face of the measures, the implications for the Barnett or any successor formula. In the discussion of the terms of reference of the commission, we want it to examine that. Although I agree that we do not want an enormous amount of bureaucracy expended on spelling out the financial implications, it would be helpful to the House, and potentially the Speaker, if the commission considered whether the proposal was helpful. I was therefore not reassured to hear that the House could not consider the financial implications until the deficit was tackled. As we heard earlier, Members will want to know the consequences for the Barnett or any successor formula.

We did not hear what sort of scrutiny the Chamber might be able to undertake if the commission recommends a change to Standing Orders. The Minister mentioned a range of solutions that the commission might devise, and the options will be the subject of continuing interest to hon. Members. Even if there were no legislative solution, I presume that the House would have to have an opportunity to discuss them.

Mr Harper: I was not very specific about the way in which the House will deal with the matter because we do not know what the solutions will be. Clearly, there would be an opportunity, if it was appropriate, for the

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House to debate the conclusions. If there was a proposal to change Standing Orders, a motion to do that would be tabled, which the House would debate and vote on. To some extent, it depends on the commission’s recommendations. The danger of my being too specific is that the point of setting up the commission is for it to use its expertise to devise solutions. I do not want to prejudge the solutions. If I did that, there would not be much point in having a commission.

Harriett Baldwin: I thank the Minister for that clarification. It leads me to my final reaction to his statement. As he acknowledged, it is disappointing that the commission will not be given an out date. It would not have been impossible for us to hear today the Minister’s expectations of an out date. Is it likely to fall during the current parliamentary Session, or after the Queen’s Speech? I feel that it should be timely enough to enable Members to resolve this complex issue before the next general election looms.

Mr Harper: Let me clarify what I said. I did not say that there would be no out date; I simply said that I had not reached a conclusion that I could share with my hon. Friend today. Obviously, when a commission is established it must be given some idea of when it is supposed to report, and, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South, we want to solve the problem before it has to be solved in a moment of crisis. Setting up the commission is not an attempt to kick the issue into the long grass. We want it to come up with workable solutions which the House can then debate and put into action.

Harriett Baldwin: I thank the Minister for his clarification, but I am not sure that I heard within it a specific timetable that he had in mind. I would expect an out date for the commission to be some time within the current Session. I would probably accept that it could potentially be as long as 12 months after its establishment, but I would consider even that to be quite a long time, given that it has taken us 16 months to get a written ministerial statement giving notice that it would be established.

Thomas Docherty: I am torn here. The hon. Lady has made some valid points, and I too am baffled by what the commission is all about if it is not about kicking the issue into the long grass. However—now I am jumping to the Minister’s defence—this is a vastly complex issue, and trying to resolve it in the few months between Christmas and next summer might not do it due service.

Harriett Baldwin: That gives me increasing grounds for worry about how people might be able to use a

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commission that has been given no specific timetable or out date as a way of delaying and stalling for a considerable time.

On the issue of the timetable and the out date, if the Bill has done nothing else it has concentrated the Government’s mind on their own business. I therefore wish to test the will of the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The House divided:

Ayes 24, Noes 40.

Division No. 344]

[1.22 pm


Baker, Steve

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Bone, Mr Peter

Bradley, Karen

Cash, Mr William

Chope, Mr Christopher

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Dinenage, Caroline

Eustice, George

Heald, Oliver

Hoey, Kate

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Latham, Pauline

Leigh, Mr Edward

Mordaunt, Penny

Nokes, Caroline

Nuttall, Mr David

Raab, Mr Dominic

Turner, Mr Andrew

Vickers, Martin

Wishart, Pete

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Tellers for the Ayes:

Iain Stewart and

Simon Hart


Anderson, Mr David

Baker, Norman

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Benyon, Richard

Brown, Lyn

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Cooper, Rosie

Davey, Mr Edward

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Docherty, Thomas

Grayling, rh Chris

Greatrex, Tom

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Harper, Mr Mark

Heath, Mr David

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hoban, Mr Mark

Jones, Helen

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Lazarowicz, Mark

Loughton, Tim

Morrice, Graeme


Munn, Meg

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Pound, Stephen

Randall, rh Mr John

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Hugh

Seabeck, Alison

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Shuker, Gavin

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Thurso, John

Timms, rh Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Woodcock, John

Tellers for the Noes:

James Duddridge and

Angela Watkinson

Question accordingly negatived.

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House of Commons Disqualification (Amendment) Bill

Second Reading

1.37 pm

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It is a great pleasure, and somewhat of a surprise, to be able to move on to this uncontroversial and straightforward little Bill. We have the best part of an hour to discuss it, so I think we should make good progress.

I am introducing such an uncontroversial and minor Bill in the true spirit of private Members’ Bills. Its aim is to act on the Prime Minister’s wishes, support coalition party policy, increase parliamentary scrutiny, reduce the size of the Government and save considerable amounts of money for the taxpayer. As I have said, it is uncontroversial, helpful to the Government and supportive of the Prime Minister.

I know that people will be suspicious that this might be a Government hand-out Bill. Let me reassure the House that although I have had some robust exchanges with the Government about the Bill, I can confirm that it is not such a Bill. I also noted, however, that the objections raised by the Government were weak and half-hearted, so reading between the lines I know that they are actually keen for the Bill to become an Act.

In a nutshell, the Bill would stop Members of Parliament becoming Whips. Why am I introducing the Bill now? There is, of course, an argument, which I shall explore later, that Members of Parliament should not be Whips at any time, but there is a more practical reason why the Bill should be passed. The Government have confirmed that they will set up a business of the House committee by 2013 as part of the ongoing radical reform of Parliament that is allowing better scrutiny of Government business. May I praise the Deputy Leader of the House, who is in his place and who I hope will have a chance to reply, for what the Government have done? They have taken the reform of Parliament seriously and there is ongoing progress—this Bill would just add a little to that progress.

The business of the House committee will timetable the business of the House so that the parliamentary week will be controlled by Parliament instead of being controlled by the Executive. That will have the effect of doing away with most of the work that the Whips now do, of which the organisation of the business of the House is a major task. Only yesterday, the Leader of the House reaffirmed at the Dispatch Box the Government’s absolute commitment to setting up the business of the House committee by 2013. He said:

“This Government successfully implemented the recommendation to establish a Backbench Business Committee, which I am sure that the hon. Gentleman welcomed. The majority of the remaining recommendations of the Wright Committee are a matter for the House rather than Government. The Government will be bringing forward a Green Paper on intelligence and security later this year in which we will make initial proposals on how to reform the Intelligence and Security Committee. As set out in the coalition agreement, the Government are committed to establishing a House business committee in 2013.”—[Official Report, 8 September 2011; Vol. 532, c. 546.]

Clause 3(2) of my Bill states:

“This Act comes into force on the day of the appointment of the House of Commons Business Committee.”

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My Bill would not abolish overnight the right for Members to be Whips. There would be a period of transition for up to two years.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Obviously, I have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman about the wonderful job that the Whips Office does, as it says here in my notes, but will he clarify what would happen to the functions that are provided to the royal household by the Whips? Who would take on those roles?

Mr Bone: Time is limited but I will address that later if I get to it.

This is not an attempt to denigrate or try to get rid of individual Members or right hon. Members of Parliament who are Whips at the moment. Almost without exception, they are talented, thoughtful, hard-working Members of Parliament who would be better employed as Executive Ministers in the Government, as shadow Ministers or on the Back Benches scrutinising the Executive. It is a waste of their considerable talent to have them in the Whips Office. I should like to single out and praise two Whips—the Government Chief Whip and the Government Deputy Chief Whip, who have been exceptionally helpful Members of Parliament and who have certainly produced a system of whipping that is fairer, freer and better than in the previous Parliament. In my opinion, they should both be Executive Ministers and should not waste their huge talents in the Whips Office.

The problem is not with the individuals or the tone of the Whips Office but with the institution itself. One could argue that when there was slavery in the southern states of the USA, there were benign slave owners, and the tone of slavery definitely improved over the years, but that does not take away from the fundamental fact that the institution of slavery was wrong because it sought to control other human beings through various methods. Similarly, the Whips Office seeks to control the minds, actions and votes of individual Members of Parliament. That is fundamentally wrong. I would argue strongly that we have a benign set of Whips at the moment, and the tone of whipping has definitely improved considerably over the years, but it is the institution of whipping that is wrong.

Looking elsewhere, let us imagine what would happen if any other organisation, private company or individual told a Member of Parliament when to speak, what to say or how to vote. They would be hauled before the House for contempt, but that is exactly what the Whips try to do every day. They will flatter, cajole, threaten or even use blackmail to achieve this. They are a perfect example of people who believe that the ends justify the means. I have lost count of how many times the Whips have shouted or sworn at me. The institution of the Whips Office is secretive and highly efficient. It is exceptionally talented at getting what it wants.

Before I go into the detail of the Bill, I shall briefly mention a television programme that many of us have probably watched. In 1980, “Yes Minister” aired for the first time. It went on for a further four series. It is of course a satirical sitcom about a hapless Minister and Parliament, but I understand that it is also the training manual for Ministers. However, I mention the programme for one episode and one scene alone. Jim Hacker, the hapless Minister, says to his private secretary when the Division bells sound, “What’s the vote?” The secretary goes on to explain that it is about the education Bill,

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and continues to explain about the details of the education Bill and what it hopes to achieve. However, before he can finish Jim Hacker cuts him off and says, “No, don’t tell me about the Bill; tell me which Lobby the Whips want me to vote in. I don’t need to know about the Bill. I just need to know which Lobby I have to vote in.” That was 30 years ago, and nothing has changed over that period.

Most Members of the House, on most occasions when Division bells ring, have no idea what they are voting for. Many do not even know the basics of the Bill; they are just voting the way the Whips tell them.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Is not the fact that Members do not know which way to vote exposed whenever there is a free vote in the House and individual Members have to make up their own mind on an issue? They are standing by the doorways, not knowing which Lobby to enter—which way to vote. It shows how mechanical the system has become.

Mr Bone: As usual, my right hon. Friend—he should be right honourable, but he is in fact my hon. Friend—is right. We have just seen an example of that. Allegedly, Labour Members had a free vote in the Division a few minutes ago, and outside in the corridor Members were asking which way to vote. They had no idea what they were voting on. Luckily, there were some Labour Whips there, helpfully indicating which way they should go on the free vote. We have had a problem in Parliament for more than 30 years. Members of Parliament are voting, not according to what a Bill is about, but according to what the Whips say.

May I explain how most Bills go through the House of Commons nowadays? A Bill

“gets sent to the House of Commons where it’s debated without diligence—because automatic guillotines cut time short. It’s passed without proper scrutiny—because standing committees for Public Bills are stuffed with puppets of the Government. And it’s voted through without much of a whisper—because MPs have been whipped to follow the party line.

We’ve got to give Parliament its teeth back so that people can have pride in it again—so they can look at it and say ‘yes: those MPs we elect—they’re holding the government to account on my behalf.’”

[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] No wonder there were cheers for that, because they are not my words, they are the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron), the Prime Minister.

By stopping Members of Parliament becoming Whips and stopping Whips telling Members of Parliament how to vote, we would help to address many of the Prime Minister’s concerns; and as with so many other things, the Prime Minister is absolutely right: we need to bring power back to Members of Parliament and away from the Executive. The Bill would enact the Prime Minister’s wishes.

I have not had the opportunity to discuss the Bill with the Prime Minister, but I am sure that if he is available and my Bill goes to a Division, he will be in the Aye Lobby. One may even say that his words were uttered in the same spirit as those of Edmund Burke, that great Conservative thinker, who once said about the perfect MP that,

“his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice…to any set of men living.”

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That is what we Members of Parliament should do, and it is what Parliament itself was set up for us to do. We should act on behalf of our constituents, and use our unbiased opinion and mature judgment to scrutinise every piece of legislation that comes our way so that we hold the Government to account, regardless of party politics. Burke could surely not have foreseen how hard it is today for a Member of Parliament to live up to his ideal. Sadly, all too many of us succumb to pressure from a particular set of men living: our flatterers, cajolers and bullies who make up our party Whips.

Mr Hollobone: I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s powerful contribution immensely. Does he agree that the better that Back Benchers do their job, the better the Executive will do their job, because we can raise the bar and hold them to account properly?

Mr Bone: My hon. Friend is quite right. I think it was the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), when he was Leader of the House in the previous Parliament, who said that there had never been a piece of legislation that had gone through the House and received proper scrutiny that had not become a better Bill as a result of that scrutiny. The thinking of the Whips—that pushing stuff through without proper scrutiny achieves the best for the Executive—is the wrong way round, because that actually results in completely the opposite.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I strongly support my hon. Friend’s Bill, but does it deal with the problem of the Committee of Selection? That Committee is dominated by the Whips and it effectively prevents honest Back Benchers with an independent mind from serving on many Public Bill Committees.

Mr Bone: My hon. Friend hits on an important point. One of the problems in this Parliament is that someone who does not agree with the line of the Executive or the shadow Executive cannot get on to such Committees. That happens because Whips nominate the membership of Committees, but a side benefit of my Bill would be that that would end, because there would be no Whips.

Unlike in many other countries, the Executive live within Parliament, rather than outside it. They propose from within Parliament, and sit, live and breathe within it. Over the years, people have therefore sought election to Parliament not to become Members of Parliament, but to become Ministers. They want to be either a Minister in government, or a shadow Minister in opposition. In the vast majority of cases, people who are elected to the House of Commons want to be a Member of Parliament not for its own end, but as a method to become a Minister. That gives enormous control to Government and Opposition Whips. If someone proposes to exercise their judgment against what the Whips want, they will rapidly be given the threat that their career will be over and they will never become a Minister—I think that I have probably qualified for that advice.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that that leads to a form of creeping patronage? Mechanisms such as negative briefings are also used, and I was subject to a hostile Culture, Media and Sport briefing that was sent around. That goes to the heart of a culture in the House that undermines the integrity of individual hon. Members.

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Mr Bone: My hon. Friend has been elected to the House to be a Member of Parliament and to use her own judgment. She hits on a good point, and if I get time, I shall deal with the problem of the black art of misinformation that the Whips operate so successfully.

For a new Member of Parliament, the Whips’ threat that their career will be over if they do not vote in a certain way is enormously powerful. However, history suggests that completely the reverse is the case. Many people who have voted against the Whips on the most controversial matters are now Ministers—some are actually in the Cabinet.

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I think that new Members are under a misapprehension. They think that if they ever vote against the Government, they will not get into the Government. Actually, people get into the Government if they are good: if they are principled and intelligent, and crack it at the Dispatch Box, they will get in. They should be far more confident about that.

Mr Bone: My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. A yes-person who always agrees with the Whips will never be a good Minister. A person has to have independent thought to be a Minister. Some members of the Cabinet voted against the Maastricht treaty—probably the most controversial issue for the Conservative party—and it did not seem to do them any harm.

Parliament was originally intended to act as a check on the Executive, and to hold them properly to account, but with the advent of the party and such concepts as party loyalty and party manifestos, Members of Parliament who put their individual judgment to one side are increasingly frequently—more often than not—treated by the Whips as little more than sheep. They are blindly herded into Division Lobbies and told to vote a particular way on a subject that they know nothing about. Whips even have the nerve to divide the groups that they look after into flocks, because they regard them as sheep. Sadly, Christopher Hollis MP had it precisely right when he said in 1946:

“On most votes it would be simpler and more economic to keep a flock of tame sheep and from time to time to drive them through the division lobbies in the appropriate number.”

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): I have great sympathy with what my hon. Friend says, and I was standing in about this position in the House when I first advocated abolishing whipping. However, does he not agree that it is necessary to organise for votes, and that without whipping, or at least some system of organisation, it would be very difficult for any Government to get their business through?

Mr Bone: Unusually, I disagree with my hon. Friend. If we go back to the years of Wilberforce, or the time of the American civil war, Members of Parliament quite often campaigned and voted against the Executive’s line. The Government would lose major pieces of legislation, but the Government did not fail; they carried on. That was what Parliament was supposed to do.

Mr Chuka Umunna (Streatham) (Lab): I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, particularly as, I must confess, I was not here for the beginning of

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his comments. Does he not acknowledge that in the time of Wilberforce, to whom he referred, political parties were a little different, and there was not the same volume of legislation? Perhaps I could ask him a key question. Is he not really arguing for a strict separation of powers? Ultimately, is not his point of contention that he objects to the fusion of the Executive and the legislature? That seems to be the real point.

Mr Bone: I am grateful for that intervention from, I think, a Parliamentary Private Secretary.

Mr Umunna: I am a former PPS and a shadow Minister.

Mr Bone: A shadow Minister—somebody who is obviously going up the greasy pole. The hon. Gentleman asks a very reasonable question about the separation of powers. Some Labour Members, such as the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), argue strongly that there should be a complete separation of powers. I do not, but I argue that the danger of a total separation of powers comes if Parliament is not effective. I understand the point that the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) makes, but although my Bill would increase the separation of powers, it would stop their total separation.

Mr Umunna: Again, I take issue with what the hon. Gentleman says, because it ignores developments in the House of Commons over the past few months. Let us look, for example, at how the Select Committee system has absolutely reasserted the scrutiny power of this place. Many would argue that the drift of the culture in this place is towards much more scrutiny and less takeover by the Whips system.

Mr Bone: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This is a totally different Parliament. There has been huge progress by Parliament and the coalition. Now is the time to press for even more reform. The one group of people who are absolutely opposed to any lessening of the Executive’s power are the Whips, because they see their whole job as getting the Executive’s business through. This is an opportunity that we should not miss and may I say, as heartily as the hon. Member for Streatham does, that I acknowledge the huge improvements that the Government have made to parliamentary scrutiny?

Mr Hollobone: As the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) rightly states, Select Committees in this Parliament have more power and authority than they did in the previous one, largely because of direct elections by all Members for their membership. However, there have been retrograde steps such as the huge increase in the number of PPSs, which increases the Government’s payroll vote and reduces the opportunity for Members to scrutinise the Executive.

Mr Bone: My hon. Friend is correct. Although we may take two steps forward, we sometimes take one step back. The Whips Office have found it difficult to deal with the fact that their patronage has been taken away. They cannot appoint Select Committee Chairmen any more, so they have gone to a different camp and we have many more PPSs. We have probably got PPSs to PPSs—it is getting to that stage. At any time, the Government can probably rely on 150 votes in the House. I regret

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that control by the Executive over Parliament, and it would help enormously if it were not possible for MPs to be Whips.

Moving on to a more controversial part of an uncontroversial Bill, I shall describe the problems with the Whips Office. There is a story about a new Member who went into the Labour Whips Office and said, “Does it mean that we can’t beat people up any more?” That is probably an urban myth that has been widely cited, but there are other stories that are clearly true and are much more worrying. In fact, not a single hon. Member would deny that the Whips Office uses a whole arsenal of weapons including patronage, flattery, misinformation, which is highly effective, and the direct threatening of parliamentary careers should the unfortunate victim of their attention not comply with their wishes.

Occasionally, the operation of the Whips Office becomes public knowledge. Let us go back just a few weeks to June, when a Backbench Business Committee debate on wild animals in circuses dominated the news outlets. First, I must say that this reforming Government have set up the Backbench Business Committee which, for the first time, has allowed Back Benchers to table business in the House. We have 35 days per Session to allocate debates, which is a huge step forward in parliamentary reform. It allows better scrutiny of the Executive and allows issues that would not otherwise be heard to be debated on the Floor of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) secured a debate on wild animals in circuses. Unfortunately, the Whips had not embraced the idea of non- Executive business or the notion that Parliament should take a view on the matter different from that of the Executive. They still tried to influence my hon. Friend with their normal bag of tricks: flattery, inducements and threats. However, my courageous and independent hon. Friend stuck to his guns and forced a change to Government policy. He said in the Chamber:

“I am not going to kowtow to the Whips or even the Prime Minister of my country on an issue that I feel passionately about and on which I have conviction.” —[Official Report, 23 June 2011; Vol. 530, c. 548.]

He also said that MPs should show “a bit of spine” and that he would not be bullied.

The result of my hon. Friend’s bold stand was that the Government caved in and allowed a free vote on his motion, which was overwhelmingly endorsed by the House of Commons. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) said, it produced better legislation as a result.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): If I remember correctly, there was no vote that day. Am I right in my recollection?

Mr Bone: My hon. Friend is not quite correct. The Question on the motion was put, but because nobody expressed dissent, it was carried by the collection of voices. Many of us who returned especially to vote on that were delighted that there was no opposition.

My argument about that day is that the Whips should not have attempted to influence support for the actions of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin, as the debate was Back-Bench business. The Whips should simply have butted out. The Bill would make it impossible for such pressure to be applied in the future because

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Members of Parliament could not be Whips. Instances of such behaviour abound and we all know several Members whose careers have been significantly affected by the actions of the Whips Office. It is, sadly, a simple fact of parliamentary life that even the size of the room a Member gets depends on how much they have pleased the Whips. My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering is still in a shoebox.

As for disinformation, let me give the House an example, particularly in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). I know that Whips deliberately misinformed hon. Members about the facts relating to the new Backbench Business Committee by sending out an e-mail out that claimed the Committee always held its business on a Thursday and decided the topic under discussion only a few days before. That was sent out by the Whips as authoritative fact, although it was completely and utterly untrue. It was intended to rubbish the new Committee because that Committee put business before the House that the Whips did not want to see debated.

It is astonishing to think that in an age where employees have more rights than ever before and workplace bullying has, thankfully, become increasingly unacceptable, Members are still treated in such a manner. If I were to treat my staff in this way for even an instant I would, quite rightly, be taken to an employment tribunal, yet it is through these often underhand methods that Whips ensure that the Executive line is strictly obeyed, and that the public are therefore denied the independent-minded Members of Parliament and, indeed, the Parliament that they deserve.

The situation is worse in coalition Governments, as Whips often force Members to vote in totally the opposite way to what their party manifesto stated on issues that they stood on at the last election. Although Liberal Members signed a pledge before the last election not to increase tuition fees, they were forced by their Whips to do completely the opposite when they were in government. Equally, Conservative Members who stood on a platform opposing the alternative vote were forced by the Whips to vote for a Bill on a referendum for the alternative vote system.

Let me give a personal example of Whips’ tactics. In the last parliamentary term, on 30 March 2011, a Whip sent out an e-mail, which I will read out:

“I regret to have to inform colleagues that we are all required tonight after 7pm on a strict 3-line whip with respect to a Motion by the Leader of the House to which an amendment has been tabled by Mr Peter Bone and others so it is now votable. Unless you have previously been slipped by me, your presence is required.”

The e-mail was sent out to every Conservative Member of Parliament. Not only did it cause great embarrassment, but it was factually incorrect and misleading—another example of misinformation. The e-mail received an understandably negative response from my colleagues, including a Minister who had to return from an important meeting because of the Whip’s action. After I contacted many of my colleagues and explained the true situation, they were appalled that the Whips had ever sent out such an e-mail. What was so outrageous was that the Whip was trying to influence Members of Parliament about a matter relating to House of Commons business which was of no concern to the Executive and entirely the responsibility of Parliament. Of course, though, that is insignificant compared with some of the other episodes in which the Whips have involved themselves.

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That is not to say that all Whips behave in such a manner, and nor is it to say—this is a response to an earlier intervention—that the Whips do not perform useful functions, but it is the Whips Office that performs those useful functions. We do not need Members of Parliament to be Whips. We can get civil servants, who are currently employed in the Whips Office anyway, to carry out the administrative necessities. There is nothing that the Whips do that could not be done by civil servants, if there was a business of the House committee. The only thing left for them to do would be the strong-arming tactics of trying to tell people how to vote.

Dr Wollaston rose—

Mr Nuttall rose—

Mr Bone: Oh, ladies first.

Dr Wollaston: I thank my hon. Friend. In these challenging financial times, has he estimated how much this would cost the taxpayer, and does he think that it would deliver value for money?

Mr Bone: My hon. Friend hits on a good point that I am going to deal with a little later. Clearly, though, the system does not provide value for money at the moment.

Mr Nuttall: The Whips Office would submit that it performs another function—a pastoral role for Members of Parliament. Does my hon. Friend agree that that role could be undertaken by the parties—for example, by the parliamentary Labour party or the 1922 committee? Does he think that they could perform that pastoral role?

Mr Bone: My hon. Friend raises an important point that has been used as the sole argument for keeping the Whips Office. If a Member of Parliament is suffering from a problem with which they need serious help, the last person they will want to go to is their Whip. Their party might even be the last people they would want to go to. Instead, they would want to see an independent professional, and such a person should be available in the House of Commons. It would be a huge improvement, not a setback.

Mr Umunna: Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we put in place a system of counselling for Members of Parliament?

Mr Bone: Now Madam Deputy Speaker—no, I am not going down that route. I am saying that professional help should be made available, as it is in any other organisation, through human resources, for people having serious problems. We all know that if we were in a big company, there would be somebody in that company who would either provide professional advice or get us to the right person, but we do not seem to have that in the House of Commons. Given the enormous pressure we are all under, that is rather surprising.

Another argument for the Whips Office is that it channels the views of Members of Parliament back to the leadership. Well, it certainly does that! But, of course, all the parties have vocal and successful Back-Bench

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committees. In my party, it is the 1922 committee. The Labour party has the PLP. It channels views back to the leadership, and I do not see why that function needs to be duplicated by the Whips. The role of the Whips could be made redundant quite easily. The public are crying out for a change in how Parliament operates: they want less power given to the Executive and they want Members who represent their views and use their own judgment, rather than acting as Lobby fodder to rubber-stamp the decisions of the Executive and blindly following the leadership’s view without even knowing what a Bill is about.

The Government’s recent initiative on debating and voting on e-petitions demonstrates their wish for a stronger Parliament and more scrutiny. Well done, again, to the Government! However, if these petitions are to be successful, there must be no whipping. What is the point of introducing an e-petition to Parliament that hundreds of thousands of people have signed, if the decision is to be made not by individual Members of Parliament using their own judgment, but by Members following the party Whip? I hope that e-petitions, at least for Government Members, will be subject to free votes.

The public want Members of Parliament who take their time to understand the issues being debated, who vote according to their conscience and who have at least some independence of spirit. Therefore, despite the recent scandals—or perhaps because of them—Parliament needs to be strengthened. I argue strongly that my Bill would benefit our democracy hugely, by ensuring a proper separation of the Executive and Parliament while still keeping part of the Executive in Parliament. The danger of not doing so is that we would end up with a US-style settlement, as some hon. Members want, where the Executive are outside Parliament.

However—to address the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes made—that would not be the only benefit; there would also be a huge benefit to the British economy. The public, having followed recent events, have become increasingly irritated by the scale of expenditure in Parliament. By abolishing the Whips’ positions, we would be saving approximately £6.5 million per Parliament in ministerial salaries—a quite astonishing amount. One of the reasons, the Executive say, why the number of MPs is being cut is to save money. Alongside the well-thought-out plans to reduce the number of Members, surely we should at least make some effort to reduce the size of government as well. It should be remembered that Whips are in fact Ministers. By getting rid of Whips, we would be reducing the number of Ministers; we would, in fact, be supporting smaller and better government.

Although I like to think that my argument about preserving the democratic heritage of Parliament is enough to win the day, I understand that there are those who feel that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) said, nothing would get done if parties did not organise their Members sufficiently strongly. In other words, business would not go through the House and everything would grind to a halt. I say that we should look to the other place. Of course the other place has parties too—it also has Cross Benchers—but its Members are far more independent-minded and far more likely to vote against the party Whip, and yet

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nobody would seriously suggest that this Chamber does a better job of scrutinising legislation than the other Chamber.

Mr Umunna rose—

Mr Bone: Let me just finish this point.

If the other place improves scrutiny by having less whipping, surely having no whipping would improve our legislation enormously. [ Interruption. ] Has the hon. Gentleman now been advised by his Whip not to intervene?

Mr Umunna: No. I simply wanted to make the point that the other place has Whips too.

Mr Bone: Indeed it does, but I am abolishing those as well. The hon. Gentleman should not worry about that; there is no problem there.

In concluding my opening remarks—

Mr Chope: Before my hon. Friend finishes, let me say that I am absolutely delighted with his speech. I am sure that my decision not to go any further with the National Health Service Redress (Amendment) Bill was a wise one, because otherwise we would have been deprived of his contribution. Does he think that his Bill could be summed up as a deregulatory Bill, replacing regulation with self-regulation?

Mr Bone: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and as usual he is at one with the Prime Minister in wanting deregulation.

Let me finish by quoting the words of a man who has the best interests of our democracy and our country at heart. This man said:

“We will give the House of Commons more control over its own timetable so there is proper time for scrutiny and debate. We will make MPs more independent, with more free votes so that they can vote as they wish and not as they’re told to.”

Those are words of our new Prime Minister, uttered in 2009 in his powerful speech about rebuilding the connection between Parliament and the people. He has already done much by giving us the Backbench Business Committee, ensuring the election of Select Committee Chairmen and promising to set up a business of the House committee by 2013. I am moving the Second Reading of this Bill today to help the Prime Minister achieve his aims.

2.19 pm

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) on getting his Bill debated and on the characteristically entertaining way in which he has discussed it. I think the only person that we did not hear mentioned was Mrs Bone, so, as we have not heard about her for a long time, I want to send her our best wishes before moving on to the substance of the Bill. I shall also try to be brief because I know that the Deputy Leader of the House wants to speak as well, although there is much to be said.

It was entertaining to hear of the cowing effect that the Whips seem to have on those on the Tory Benches. When I was a Labour Whip, it did not seem to work like that at all; the situation was quite the reverse, in fact. I am peculiarly qualified to discuss the hon. Gentleman’s

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Bill, in that I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Dawn Primarolo) in her previous incarnation as a Minister, a rebel on the Government Back Benches and then a poacher turned gamekeeper as a Whip. I was therefore interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman said today.

The Bill would have the effect of disqualifying all Government Whips, the Opposition Chief Whip and the assistant Opposition Whips from membership of the House. Interestingly, it does not seek to disqualify the Opposition deputy Chief Whip or the third person in the Opposition Whips Office who receives a salary and who is usually, but not always, the pairing Whip. I assume that those people would be left here to run amok and do as they wished. Meanwhile, the Opposition assistant Whips, who are not paid, would be subject to disqualification.

The problem with the Bill is not simply that it is defective, but that it is wrong in its intent. It is bizarre, at a time of growing pressure on Ministers to become more accountable to Parliament, that the hon. Gentleman should seek to ensure that one group of Ministers should no longer be accountable to Parliament at all. That is what his Bill states, although of course that is not his real intention. His real aim, as he stated very clearly, is to get rid of Whips altogether. Most of his argument seems to be based on fictional characters from “Yes, Prime Minister” and on a strange belief that people who have fought to become Members of Parliament by scrambling over everyone else to get selected and elected are so wet that one word from their Whip will turn them into quivering wrecks who will do exactly as they are told. That is just wrong.

MPs may choose to break the Whip. That is a choice that many in this House have had to make on occasions, and sensible people know that, if they do that, consequences will follow. We cannot have everything in this life. I remember being threatened with the loss of my career, which was not much of a threat as I did not have a career to threaten at the time—it took me 11 years in this House to become a promising newcomer—but that is the price we pay if we break the Whip. We are all grown-ups, and we know the price.

More importantly, we are also products of a party political system. When the hon. Gentleman goes back to his constituency, the people there know that he represents the Conservative party—at least for some of the time. Similarly, the people in my constituency know that I am a Labour Member of Parliament. I assume that, like me, he stood for election on his party’s manifesto. The party political system in this country is frequently denigrated, but I want to make an argument for it, because it gives people at least a general idea of what they are voting for—unless they support the Liberal Democrats, in which case they usually get the opposite of what they vote for. This is not to say that politicians do not have to react to events or that the manifesto covers every eventuality, but, in broad terms, party politics defines common approaches to problems. There is a good argument for greater scrutiny in the House, particularly on the Report stages of Bills, but if that is what the hon. Gentleman wants, he should concentrate not on the whipping system but on the timetable.

I repeat that Members of Parliament are not sheep. It was certainly not a word that we used when I was in the Whips Office. My right hon. Friend the Member for

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Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown), the Chief Whip under whom I served, referred to the parliamentary Labour party as “the body of the kirk”. He used to tell us to get out among the body of the kirk, not the flock.

The hon. Member for Wellingborough should not pretend that we do not have party politics in this country. The alternative to party politics is a system based on personalities. I do not mean that Members of Parliament do not have personalities—I have been a Member of Parliament long enough to know that they do, and the hon. Gentleman is a fine example of that. However, systems that are based on personalities, not parties, tend to lead inexorably to campaigns that are based on personal wealth. The reason for that is simple. People seldom get elected to the House as independents without personal wealth, although there have been one or two notable exceptions.

The long-term effect of the Bill would be to move us in precisely the opposite direction to the one that most of us wish to take—it would lead to the politics of personality rather than politics based on issues. We have already gone too far in that direction, and we should move away from it, not towards it.

I listened to the hon. Gentleman’s comments with great amusement, and I feel terribly sorry for Tory Back Benchers if they are so frightened by their Whips, but I cannot support the Bill.

2.26 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): I am delighted at least to start to respond to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and his Bill. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) for her comments. She said that she was a rebel against her Whips before being dragooned into their service. I suppose that I have a similar background in that I fear that I did not endear myself to my then Whips over the Lisbon treaty, but I seem to have recovered at least some favour with the party since then.

I am grateful for the way in which the hon. Gentleman introduced the Bill, because he went out of his way to express his admiration and gratitude to our colleagues who form the current Whips team. He also justifiably made a great deal of the Government’s progress in re-enfranchising Parliament and making it more effective and more able to look after its interests rather than simply being the instrument of the Executive. One of the abiding features of recent Parliaments was restrictions, not only on the House’s structures, but through timetabling. Having lived through 13 years of a Labour Government, knowing exactly what happened then, and given the comparative freedom we now have to consider legislation, I was amazed to hear the hon. Member for Warrington North talk about the time available for Bills.

There have been genuine improvements. As the hon. Member for Wellingborough has said, one such improvement goes beyond anything else—the creation of the Backbench Business Committee, on which he serves with such distinction. There is also the promise of more to come, such as our commitment as a Government to introduce a full business of the House Committee.

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I have just enough time to say how much I respect the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Mr McLoughlin), my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) and the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Mr Randall) and their team. Working with them in the past 18 months has been an absolute pleasure—an unexpected pleasure, because I did not know the extent of the co-operation and sensitivity that I could expect from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, the Comptroller of Her Majesty’s Household and the Treasurer of Her Majesty’s Household.

The understanding of and fellow feeling for Back Benchers that they have shown have been a revelation to me, and they were clearly recognised by the hon. Member for Wellingborough, who has not been cajoled, threatened or bullied but has, by a simple process of persuasion, found himself able to accept the advice of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury—

2.30 pm

The debate stood adjou rned (Standing Order No. 11(2)).

Ordered,  That the debate be resumed on Friday 21 October.

Business without Debate

Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous occurrences Regulation Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 25 November.

alcohol Marketing Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 21 October.

National Park Authorities Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 25 November.

Road Safety Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 25 November.

Secured Lending Reform Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 16 September.

9 Sep 2011 : Column 725

Safety of Medicines Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 21 October.

Carers and employment Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 3 February 2012.

Activity Centres (Young Persons’ Safety) (amendment) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 25 November.

Low Hazard Workplaces (Risk Assessment Exemption) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 25 November.

Self-employment (Risk Assessment Exemption) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 25 November.

9 Sep 2011 : Column 726

Health and Safety Consultants (Qualifications) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 25 November.

Tribunals (Maximum Compensation Awards) Bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (17 June), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 25 November.

Public Bodies (Disposal of Assets) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 25 November.

Volunteering Bill

Resumption of adjourned debate on Question (10 June), That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 25 November.

Medical Insurance (Pensioner Tax Relief) Bill

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Hon. Members: Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Friday 25 November.

9 Sep 2011 : Column 727

Croydon City Status Bid

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(James Duddridge.)

2.34 pm

Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to make the case for Croydon to be granted city status. Before I begin, let me apologise to the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), for detaining him here in Westminster when he would obviously prefer to be on his way to the constituency that he serves with such distinction. I know that, in replying to my speech, he will not be able to comment on the merits or otherwise of my case. The decision is ultimately one for Her Majesty. I know too that he has already replied to other debates attended by hon. Members representing what I would argue are less well qualified towns, so I hope that it is some consolation that he did not have to prepare a fresh speech for today’s debate.

Croydon is not just the town that I represent in the House; it is my home. My parents moved there when I was a few months old and I have lived there ever since. Perverse as it may sound to those who know Croydon by reputation only, I cannot think of a better place to live. It is part of the greatest city in the world, but it is also a city, in all but name at the moment, in its own right. It is 15 minutes from central London and on the doorstep of the beautiful north downs. It has great schools, libraries, shops, theatres, restaurants and bars, a rich history and above all a wonderful mix of people who have come from all over the world to make the place their home.

I have had the privilege of representing Croydon in this House only for just over a year. I am, therefore, as they would say in America, very much the junior MP for Croydon. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Richard Ottaway) and the right hon. Member for Croydon North (Malcolm Wicks) have both represented the town for nearly 20 years. Neither is able to be here today, but they have both asked me to put on the record their support for the case that I am making.

Over the summer, Croydon has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. One month ago yesterday, a few hundred people, many of them, it is now clear, not from Croydon, looted businesses and set fire to historic buildings along London road and the Purley way, and in Old Town, south Croydon and New Addington. Of course, we were not the only part of the United Kingdom to witness such behaviour, but many will long remember the images of that night: the House of Reeves furniture story burning, and Monika Konczyk jumping from a first-floor window were images of my town.

The damage—the historic buildings that were destroyed, the blow to the town's reputation or the simple knowledge that living among us are a tiny minority who chose to do such things to their own town—cannot be undone, but set against that damage are the positives that have emerged from the ashes at Reeves Corner and on the London road: the thousands of people who helped with the clean-up or gave money to help businesses to rebuild; the dedication of the public servants who have housed the homeless, put out the fires, identified the guilty and brought them to justice; the way in which our courts have reflected public sentiment that a clear message has

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to be sent to those responsible; and above all, the renewed sense of pride in our town, that this is our home, that it has a lot going for it and that we will not less the wreckers win.

That is why I am here today. If the granting of city status were just an ego boost for the local council, it would not be worth fighting for, but that is not what this is about. It is about getting long overdue recognition of Croydon's true status and, even more important, about raising its profile and giving the town a much needed boost as we rebuild.

So what is our case? The Department for Culture, Media and Sport website is wonderfully vague about the grounds on which Her Majesty will make the decision. It points out that city status has never

“been a right to be claimed by places fulfilling a list of criteria”,

but it does refer to age, history and associations with royalty, so I will start there.

Croydon sits in a valley between the Crystal Palace escarpment and the northern slopes of the north downs. There is evidence that the valley was inhabited during the bronze age, with a barrow on the top of Croham Hurst, and that it was occupied in Roman times, but the name Croydon is almost certainly of Anglo-Saxon origin meaning “valley of the crocus”. It is due south of London and just north of a natural gap in the north downs, and hence it became a natural stopping off point on the route from London to the south coast.

In 871, the King granted Aethelred, the Archbishop of Canterbury, a charter for land in what is now Old Town and that began a long association between Croydon and the See of Canterbury. The Domesday Book records Archbishop Lanfranc as the lord of the manor in 1086, which then consisted of a church, a mill and 365 people. In 1276, King Edward I granted a charter for a weekly market and that spurred the development of the town. By the 16th century, the manor house had become a large palace that was the summer residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury. A number of monarchs, including Henry VII, Henry VIII, Mary and Elizabeth I, are known to have visited the palace.

In 1781, the palace was sold—parts of it survive today as Old Palace of John Whitgift school—and a new palace was built at Addington, whose grounds were landscaped by Capability Brown. That continued as the summer home of Archbishops until 1898. In total, 11 Archbishops are buried in Croydon, either in Greater London's only minster, next to the old palace, or at St Mary's church in Addington village.

Archbishop John Whitgift left a particular mark on the town. He petitioned Elizabeth I for permission to set up a hospital and school for the “poor, needy and impotent”. In 1599, the hospital of the Holy Trinity was completed and it survives today at the centre of the town as the almhouses, run by a charitable foundation named after John Whitgift which also runs three schools, a residential home and a nursing home. I should declare an interest: I am a governor of that charity. Her Majesty visited the almshouses on 21 June 1983.

The spur for the transformation of Croydon from small Surrey market town to the heart of south London, which is what it is today, was the development of the railways. In 1803, the Surrey Iron railway from Wandsworth to Croydon opened; it was the world’s first public

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railway. It was followed by the London and Croydon railway linking London Bridge and West Croydon in 1831, and the London, Brighton and South Coast railway in 1860. That led to a population explosion with a 23-fold increase in population between 1801 and 1901 and Croydon’s incorporation as a borough in 1883.

Croydon also played a key role in the development of air travel. It was home to London’s main airport from 1920 until 1952 and was the first place in the world to use air traffic control. Amy Johnson embarked on her historic solo flight to Australia from Croydon. The town also played a key role in world war two. Croydon airport was the target of the first German raid on the capital, and it was from Croydon—Kenley airfield in the south of the borough and Biggin Hill just over the border in what is now Bromley—that “the few” took to the skies to defend our country during its “darkest hour.” The town suffered substantial damage in the war and afterwards twinned with Arnhem in Holland, which had suffered similarly during Operation Market Garden. The 1950s and 1960s was a time of great rebuilding, with skyscrapers, a flyover and an underpass leading to the “mini-Manhattan” nickname and giving the town its current form and character.

There is much more to Croydon than many people know, therefore: Anglo-Saxon origins and a strong association with the See of Canterbury and royalty, as well as being a key location in the development of the railways and aviation, and playing an important role in the second world war. Being a city, however, is about more than just having a rich history. The “Oxford English Dictionary” tells us that a city is:

“A title ranking above that of ‘town’.”

Although a few places that have been granted city status in the past are fairly small today, most cities have large populations. On that test, Croydon is clearly best qualified of all the applicants. It is home to more than 340,000 people—more than in Belfast, Cardiff, Coventry, Newcastle, Nottingham or Southampton. Indeed, of the 66 existing UK cities, only nine have a larger population than Croydon. It is as big as Bilbao or Nice; indeed, we believe it to be the largest town in the whole of western Europe.

People also think of cities as commercial hubs, and Croydon has more than 8 million square feet of office space and more than 10,000 employers. It is home to dozens of blue-chip companies, including Nestlé, Mott MacDonald, BT, Barclays and AIG, and the local authority has the fifth highest business rate yield in the country. That gives some feel of the scope of the business centre.

Croydon is also a huge transport hub. There are 17 main line stations in the borough. The key station is East Croydon, from which there are 27 million journeys annually, making it the fourth busiest station in the country outside central London. Croydon is within a 15-minute journey of the west end and the City of London, and has excellent connections to Gatwick airport and the south coast by rail. Under our Mayor of London, the East London line extension was recently completed, adding Croydon to the tube map and giving excellent connections to the docklands. Croydon is also set apart from some of the other applicants, in that it is a transport hub in a number of ways. The tram system that was opened in 2000 connects large areas of south London, with Croydon at the hub, and there are more than 28 million journeys a year on that network. In

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short, it is one of the best connected places in the country, with a similar number of people coming into Croydon each day to work as the number commuting out to London.

Another characteristic that one expects of a city is that it is a public services hub. There are more than 155 schools in the borough, including some outstanding state schools such as Coloma and the Harris Academy in Crystal Palace, which was one of the first city technology colleges. There are also some outstanding independent schools. I referred earlier to the Whitgift Foundation and its three schools, Whitgift, Trinity and Old Palace. There is also the Al-Khair school, a high-performing Islamic school. There is the BRIT school of performing arts, too, whose graduates include Adele, Amy Winehouse, Jessie J, Katie Melua and Leona Lewis. Croydon College is one of largest further education colleges in the south-east, and is shortly hoping to open a university centre so that young people in south London can get a degree from the University of Sussex while studying at home and paying tuition fees well below the level that many universities are now charging. We have an excellent hospital in Croydon university hospital and the third busiest public library in the UK.

Another feature that marks out cities is outstanding leisure facilities. Indeed, the Government guidelines say:

“Ministers take the view that the places to be honoured with city status…should have supplied convincing evidence of their ability to welcome people into their areas and to provide, promote or facilitate access to a wide variety of places, activities and events.”

Croydon is home to Fairfield halls, one of the best concert halls in the country. Fairfield halls is the home of the London Mozart players, an outstanding chamber orchestra whose patron is His Royal Highness Prince Edward. A mark of the repute of the concert hall is the fact that over the past five years, people have purchased tickets from Fairfield halls from all but two of the main postcodes across the United Kingdom. This is not just a local venue for people in south London but one that people from across the country frequent. We also have the Warehouse theatre, which puts on its own shows and has an annual playwright festival. Croydon is the home of dubstep music, a new genre of music that was created there.

We also have outstanding green spaces, parks and open spaces. Ten parks in Croydon have been awarded the prestigious green flag award and the Royal Horticultural Society recently voted us the UK’s greenest “large city”. In sports, Croydon is home to Crystal Palace football club—south London’s greatest team—although at the moment, sad to say, that is not necessarily the greatest accolade. Surrey county cricket club play some of their games at Whitgift school and just on our border we have Crystal Palace national sports centre.

There is more than 2.5 million square feet of prime retail space in the town, £1 billion of annual retail turnover and more than 800 restaurants, bars and clubs. On all the tests of the town’s being a hub for retail, employment, transport and public services, Croydon clearly passes.