CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 786-ii

HOUSE OF COMMONS

ORAL EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE THE

PROCEDURE COMMITTEE

PRIVATE MEMBERS' BILLS

WEDNESDAY 19 DECEMBER 2012

MR CHRISTOPHER CHOPE MP, PHILIP DAVIES MP and REBECCA HARRIS MP

Evidence heard in Public

Questions 52 - 95

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

1.    

This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

2.

The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be

printed in due course.

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Procedure Committee

on Wednesday 19 December 2012

Members present:

Mr Charles Walker (Chair)

Jenny Chapman

Nic Dakin

Thomas Docherty

John Hemming

Mr David Nuttall

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Martin Vickers

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Mr Christopher Chope MP, Philip Davies MP and Rebecca Harris MP, gave evidence.

Q52 Chair: Thank you for coming to see us. As you know, we are doing an inquiry into private Members’ Bills. Is the current process fit for purpose? Can it be improved? Is too much legislation getting on the statute? Is there too little? Are the Government too involved with handout Bills? Is it too easy to talk private Members’ Bills out? Everything is up for grabs, so we want you to be open and honest with us. If you have any problems, let us know. If you like how it is currently being done, do not be afraid to argue that point. We have a number of colleagues who are eager to wade in.

Q53 Jacob Rees-Mogg: Looking at the fundamentals of private Members’ Bills, what are we as Members trying to do with them? Are we mainly trying to get a debate on an issue that we feel strongly about, thinking that the Government might then take it up or that it might gain a public following, or are we expecting to pass major pieces of legislation?

Mr Chope: I do not think one can generalise. People can have all sorts of different motives for private Members’ Bills. But one of the fundamental things that we should not lose sight of is that our legislature is not unique, but is relatively unusual, in enabling private Members to introduce legislation with the prospect of that legislation being able to get on the statute book. That is a freedom that we must preserve at all costs, and, indeed, facilitate.

Some people’s ambition is to get a private Member’s Bill in their name on the statute book. They may get it through the House; I think our colleague the new hon. Member for Woking got a Bill through the House without uttering a word, hardly, except, "Now, sir," or something like that. So his bid is on the statute book, and he used his position in the ballot to do that.

Other people, if they are lucky in the ballot, will choose to promote a cause in the knowledge that it might generate some debate on a future occasion. A lot of the legislation that is started off in the form of private Members’ Bills can, in due course, be taken on by the Government. From my own experience, I have produced two or three private Members’ Bills promoting the cause of legislating afresh against drug-driving, and now we see that the Government have taken up that issue in primary legislation. They might have done so anyway, but, on the other hand, by having the opportunity to promote private Members’ Bills on that subject, one was able to get the issue on the agenda.

Philip Davies: My answer to this is it is both. It is both people who want to get some legislation through and people who want to raise a particular issue and bring it to wider public attention. Both are perfectly noble things to do. My point about private Members’ Bills would be that, whichever motive it is, and whatever the sentiment-however noble the sentiment and however well-meaning the legislation and what is being proposed-that should not be an excuse not to have proper scrutiny. Too often with private Members’ Bills we are being invited to approve a sentiment, and if you object to the Bill you are castigated for objecting to the sentiment, when actually you may well share the sentiment, but what you are supposed to be doing is scrutinising a particular piece of legislation. Some people seem to think that if they turn up with a high-minded sentiment, everybody should lose all of their critical faculties, and nod it through without anybody saying a peep about it. A Member’s motive for bringing forward a Bill is neither here nor there to me, whatever it is: it might just be to ingratiate themselves with a Government Minister-that may be a motivation. Whatever it is, that is fine by me: I don’t have a problem with the motive, as long as we get it properly scrutinised.

Rebecca Harris: Clearly people bring in private Members’ Bills for both purposes. Some will have a genuine desire actually to change legislation, and some may take up a Government handout Bill to have more confidence that they are going to do that; some will bring a Bill forward because they want to have the opportunity of having a debate and raising a public debate. I do not think that that should be the reason for Bills. I think the objective should be to try to bring in legislation. I think we are perpetuating something of a fraud on the public if we are bringing forward Bills which we simply want to be a debating opportunity rather than to make actual legislation. That is wrong.

In a funny kind of way, the Bill that I brought forward, which is why I am here today, was a hybrid: it was on an issue that had been the subject of half a dozen previous attempts at private Members’ legislation that had failed, because it is a controversial issue. So I had tried to do something slightly different, and bring forward legislation to introduce an impact assessment of what it would mean in legislation. That was incredibly undemanding, and I probably rather naively thought, "Well, who could possibly object to simply having greater evidence on the efficacy or not of this issue?" It came up against a considerable amount of opposition in any case, from people who simple do not agree with private Members’ Bills being brought forward at all, as far as I saw it. I thought that was highly regrettable, and I imagine that is why I am here now. I think it should be that Bills are brought forward with a genuine prospect of becoming legislation.

Q54 Jacob Rees-Mogg: Christopher, you saw it as a Minister as well. When you were a Minister, did you look at private Member’s Bills and think, "That one is quite good and my Department ought to take it up," or were you quite remote from that? What was the thinking on them within Government?

Mr Chope: The thinking within Government as I recall was very much that private Member’s Bills are a pain in the neck, really, particularly if they espouse populist causes. The best example I have got of that is not from a time when I was a Minister but when I was out of the House but sitting on the Health and Safety Commission.

We had the Lyme bay canoeing tragedy, and a Member for one of the Plymouth seats took up the cause on behalf of his constituents. He was lucky in the ballot and he brought forward a Bill to regulate adventure activity centres. Ironically, because of the history of all of this, the Minister who was in charge at the time in the Department for Education was none other than Eric Forth. He was effectively forced by a Cabinet Committee to give this Bill a fair passage because emotionally it was difficult to say, "We mustn’t do something about this". The fact that the person responsible for that tragedy was later convicted for manslaughter, so it was already against the law, was neither here nor there; something had happened, youngsters had been killed with others injured, and the local MP wanted to do something about it.

The Health and Safety Commission, which comprised trade unionists, representatives of the CBI and third-party people such as myself, was charged by the Government with giving advice on these issues. Unanimously, it counselled the Government against taking action. So I give that as an example of where the Government ended up doing something that they would rather not have done, but they saw that there was potential for embarrassment if that Bill was not allowed a fair passage.

Many years ago, there was the occasion, for example, when our colleague, Rob Hayward, at the Government’s behest, talked out-or facilitated talking out-a Bill about the disabled. When later he was standing as a Conservative candidate in the Christchurch by-election in 1993, the Liberal Democrats arrived in large numbers with their wheelchairs to have a big demonstration against him, portraying him as somebody who was hostile towards the interests of the disabled. So the idea that you can do something on a Friday without it catching up with you later, whether you be the Government or an individual Member promoting or speaking against a Bill, is fallacious. This is very much in the public arena. Nothing should be done without a sense of responsibility.

Q55 Jacob Rees-Mogg: In the first case you mentioned, that was the Government facilitating a Bill and in the second case it was the Government pushing for a Bill not to go through. To what extent have all three of you found that, ultimately, it is the Government’s will so, to an extent, private Member’s Bills are a misnomer? Handout Bills broadly get through and non-handout Bills, if they are at all controversial, often get stuck because the Government encourages people to speak at considerable length. I would appreciate the thoughts of all three of you on that, and what your personal experiences have been.

Philip Davies: To be perfectly honest, the only time I ever find popularity with the Whips Office is on a Friday, when we find a common purpose. If they want a Bill talked out and think that I might share that particular view, they are happy for me to do that. I do not want to speak for Chris, but I am sure that we have both had occasion when, in effect, we have felt-even if we have not been instructed-that the Government were happy to let us talk the Bill out. We would then get all the brickbats that go with that, but they were happy that we were doing it because they did not want to get their hands dirty. That tends to be my experience. I think your premise is pretty accurate, that, on the whole, a private Member’s Bill will only be successful if the Government are happy for it to be successful. If the Government have any doubts about it, the chances are that, one way or another-whether it is talked out on Second Reading, filleted in Committee or whatever-the Bill will not get through. That is a fair observation.

Rebecca Harris: That is unquestionably true. It is also true of the rest of Government legislation. One might say that there is a sort of-well, dishonesty might be too harsh a word to use. There could be opportunities, where a private Member’s Bill clearly has enough support across the House-the will of the House on the day it is debated on Second Reading shows it is quite clear that there is considerable support-for us to change the system so that if the Government are unhappy about it, they can deal with it in a number of ways, on their own or through a whipped vote, rather than through what we are assuming is a slightly dishonest process.

There is also a risk that with some potential legislation that seems contentious or difficult to the Government, it is easier for them not to actually look at the case properly, understand it, or look at what possibilities there are, because it is private Member’s legislation, and, despite the high degree of interest, it does not necessarily gain the Government attention at all levels that it might require. One could perhaps change the process, so that, say, if a threshold has been achieved on Second Reading and there is sufficient cross-party interest, it should have some sort of attention-a programming motion in Government time during the week-to show the will of the House.

In many ways, that would actually draw the Government’s attention to it more fully so that they could look at what they did and did not want out of it. At the moment, there is a possibility that they would say, "It’s Friday business, there seems to be a lot of interest, but it is not on our agenda at the moment," and not take into full account the possible merits or demerits of the case. We perhaps need a slightly more honest approach if the majority party is not interested in something that perhaps needs to come at some stage, if there is enough interest in the House, to be looked at by the whole House.

Q56 Jacob Rees-Mogg: What would you set that threshold at? You have had a closure motion before, which is 100 Members plus the tellers. Is that a reasonable number, or do you think it should be higher than that?

Rebecca Harris: I do not feel qualified-I am one of the 2010 intake-or that I have enough knowledge about this House. I would leave that to the more wise heads on the Committee. However, I think that a private Member’s Bill that has managed to attract more than 100 on Second Reading, on a Friday, which is quite a tall ask, could be a threshold. You could also look at how the vote had gone. If it was, say, 120 to 10-I am tempted to say that that would be the 10 who are always here on a Friday anyway so had not made any special effort, but I appreciate that we cannot count that-that might well seem to be a threshold, from which one would say, "Okay, we will see whether this merits a programme motion for Report," which is the difficult part to get through for a private Member’s Bill. At that point, the Government of course have every opportunity to deal with it in another way, but perhaps a slightly more understandable way for the public.

Q57 John Hemming: A lot of this comes down to the question about the honesty of the system, and to what extent Parliament is actually assenting to legislation, as opposed to writing it. Do you think it is worth looking at things prior to tabling a Bill to challenge the Government to do the consultation that they want to do, in order to get answers as to why something is a good or bad reason?

Rebecca Harris: Public consultation is extremely expensive. I would have thought that this is about the House and looking at how the votes here go, the public opinion of the House, and whether something has cross-party support, rather than a consultation.

Q58 John Hemming: I was actually thinking that one of the difficulties, say with amendments, is that there is a need within Government to consult the different Departments to get feedback. Do you think there is a use for that process?

Rebecca Harris: From, or I suppose sort of from, my experience, I believe that my Bill probably was consulted on around Departments, because I had a piece of legislation that, oddly, impinged a little bit on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and touched a little bit on climate change. I believe that that will have happened around Government, although I cannot say that it did. However, there is slightly insufficient challenge to the Government to come to an absolute view on something. Their default position would be: "This is private Member’s legislation, it is a little bit difficult, we haven’t really got time and it is not on our agenda." That is my feeling.

Q59 John Hemming: Would it be good to have a way of forcing it on to their agenda?

Rebecca Harris: I think private Members’ Bills do put it on to their agenda. The only way to force it on to their agenda is to say a threshold has been met and they have got to debate it on the Floor of the House, offer a programme motion and say whether it is going to be a whipped vote in the House.

Mr Chope: The more important group to consult are other parliamentary colleagues. These are private Members’ Bills, and if a sufficiently large number of Back Benchers get together and say they want to have legislation on something, they can either deliver that legislation in spite of the Government, or they can embarrass the Government into accepting it, and so change the agenda.

I am going back a few years now, but I can remember when Austin Mitchell brought forward the Bill for licensed conveyancing. It was under attack from all the entrenched, vested interests-particularly solicitors, and at that stage more solicitors were represented in the House. He managed to get more than 100 people into the House that day because he drew the attention of ordinary Members to what might happen as a result of the Bill. For most people, the issue of whether we need licensed conveyancers, what restrictive practices there were and how costs could be reduced had never crossed their radar. But Austin, to his great credit, raised the subject. He made it into not quite a national issue but one that won the support of a lot of colleagues, which meant that a sufficient number of people turned up to ensure that the Bill got through its Second Reading.

It is dangerous to generalise from a particular Bill, but I was amazed that Rebecca’s Bill, having got a Second Reading after a closure motion-I think it was January 2011, if my memory serves me right-was not pushed forward. If it had been pushed forward-I have said this to Rebecca-it would probably have got its Third Reading in the Commons. First, it was not put into Committee because a deal was done between the promoter of the Bill and the Government, that it mustn’t be put into Committee until after the Scottish elections. After the Scottish elections, there was one deal or another about having a money resolution. So the Bill did not end up getting into Committee until much later. I think that it was the last day when we were discussing Bills at Report stage that it came before the Commons for Report stage.

If the position in the timetable had been used to push that Bill forward from the outset then although it might have taken three sessions at Report stage to get it through, as happened with the Sustainable Communities Bill, it probably would have got through in the end. The way that amendments are grouped at Report stage and the way that closure motions can be moved ensures that it is impossible for any body or group of people to hold up a Bill indefinitely. But as soon as it went right down the pecking order and was left to what one might describe as the fag end of the parliamentary year, it hadn’t got a chance. It was extremely vulnerable.

The problem with that Bill-I say this with no criticism of Rebecca-was that its promoter was seduced by the Government. The Government did not want that Bill. If they had wanted the Bill-it was about having an impact assessment of the various options about changing the clocks-they could do it without legislation. They did not want to do it, but they did not want to be seen to be against it.

Chair: Rebecca, do you want to come back on that? Could I just make one plea to witnesses? I know you want to give full responses, but could you shorten them a bit so we can canter through the questions we have got to get through?

Rebecca Harris: I refute the accusation of having been seduced by the Government at any stage on this, but it is true that had my resolution been passed a fortnight earlier, we might have had two sitting days. That might argue for further sitting days for private Members’ legislation. It is also true that my Bill was not leapfrogged by any other. I went into Committee after the third in the ballot-I was the fourth in the ballot-and we completed Committee stage very quickly. It did take a considerable amount of time in what was a very long parliamentary Session, and other Bills were therefore held up behind it, presumably, if there was the hold-up that Chris refers to.

Q60 Thomas Docherty: Going back to something you said, Philip, first of all, I do not think that anybody objects to decent scrutiny; but would you accept that there are some colleagues in the House and some people outside whose objection is to the tactics that might be employed? For example, we have a relatively complex Government Bill this afternoon; debate kicked off at 3.25 pm, so by my limited maths, it will get three hours and 35 minutes at most for its Second Reading. It will then go into Bill Committee-I think there are quite a few sittings timetabled. It will then come back for Report stage and Third Reading, but in terms of the Floor of the House, it will have a relatively limited amount of time for scrutiny, whereas Rebecca’s Bill had, I think I am right in saying, the best part of five hours on Second Reading. I have actually pulled up the Bill Committee stage to look at and I can see that, for example, what was originally a six-clause Bill-I am in danger of making a very long question here, aren’t I?

Chair: Don’t worry-you are a member of the Committee, so you are allowed to.

Thomas Docherty: It then turned into a 12-clause Bill because the Government under Ed Davey tabled lots of amendments, and then it had another five hours on Report and Third Reading. Do you think that that was a Bill that had not had adequate scrutiny? I guess that is two questions: do you think it is about the tactics that are being employed and do you think that was a Bill that actually had not had adequate scrutiny?

Philip Davies: Well, it’s a bit of both. I think it would be wrong to pick one Bill out and presume that that it is the norm. If you were to look at the current Session of Parliament, you would see no end of private Members’ Bills that were fairly raced through, to be perfectly honest, some without even any scrutiny whatsoever. You might have three or four Report stages in one day. If they were to look at this Session of Parliament, I think most people would come to the conclusion that most of these Bills have had too little scrutiny, not too much.

Q61 Chair: Can I just interrupt you there, Philip? Sorry, I should know this, and it is to my detriment that I do not, but how many of those Bills that have got through the House were handout Bills, as far as you are aware?

Philip Davies: I do not know. I think probably most, maybe all, but I genuinely do not know.

Mr Chope: Not all of them. I know Sir Paul Beresford’s one was not a handout Bill.

Chair: And Gavin’s was not a handout Bill.

Philip Davies: The majority, then. It should be hard to get a private Member’s Bill into law. It should not be easy; it should not be something where you turn up one week, get it through Committee the next week and then Report stage. It should be a hard process. Rebecca’s Bill is probably not the best example of a typical private Member’s Bill.

In terms of tactics, if you are against a particular piece of legislation, whichever side of the House you are on-I am sure the Opposition do the same with the Government’s legislation-of course you are going to use whatever legitimate tactics there are to scupper it. If somebody is proposing something that you fundamentally object to, of course you are going to look at what you have at your disposal to try to stop it happening. It seems to me that that is not an illegitimate thing to do; it is a perfectly legitimate thing to do. Everybody will do that, and I personally do not see anything wrong with it.

Members have the protection of the Speaker to stop people being repetitious or going off track. If anyone thinks it is too easy to talk out a Bill-well, you try it. It is not easy to talk out a Bill. It is actually a very, very difficult thing to do, and it takes an awful lot of hard work and preparation. There is this idea that certain people just turn up on a Friday and pick up a Bill and think, "We’ll scupper this," and they just keep going for five hours. To be perfectly honest, it is just impossible to do that.

Thomas Docherty: Perhaps I can phrase the question slightly differently or ask a follow on question to all three of you.

Chair: Rebecca would like to come in.

Rebecca Harris: I would dispute how difficult it is to talk out a Bill. It is simply a matter of tabling a sufficient number of amendments to have them grouped sufficiently. I knew the night before Report stage that the game was up. Some were discounted-the ones calling for the independence of Somerset to call for its own time, which no one could dispute were wrecking amendments-but by sheer force of numbers there were wrecking amendments, because once we had three groups of amendments, I knew that the game was up. If we had had two groups of amendments, we would have been all right.

It is perfectly simple for someone to talk at length. During my Bill, we had a motion that had not been used since 1986 to put a closure on the hon. Member for Christchurch, because he had been talking for over an hour. It is perfectly possible to do. So I dispute that it is a difficult thing to talk out a private Member’s Bill. It is simply a matter of tabling enough amendments. It only takes a very small group of people. In the case of my Bill, throughout the course of the morning, we had 144 Members of Parliament, including three Cabinet Ministers, who came to vote in favour of the Bill; there were over 120 at every individual vote, and the same group of 10 voted against it at each stage. I do not think that that means that it is difficult to talk out a Bill if you want to.

Q62 Thomas Docherty: I guess what I was trying to get to was whether we, on all sides, are obsessing about the Floor of the House. To follow Philip’s valid point about due scrutiny and due diligence on a Bill, this is a very complex Bill that is actually going to get very little scrutiny. By the time Caroline sits down, it will be getting on for 4.30 pm or 5 pm, which means an hour and a half of Back-Bench contributions at the most, but the Public Bill Committee is going to go upstairs and take it line by line. Isn’t the real nub ensuring that there is adequate scrutiny of an issue in the Bill Committee, so that if the Bill, to put it bluntly, sucks, it does not get out of the Bill Committee, rather than having to rely on helpful Back Benchers-if I can say that about Mr Davies-coming to the rescue?

Philip Davies: The problem is that the Bill Committee is stuffed with people who are in favour of the Bill, so that does not really get adequate scrutiny for people who are against the Bill. Rebecca was not going to want me on the Bill Committee for her Bill.

Rebecca Harris: It is proportionate to the vote on Second Reading.

Philip Davies: You make a very valid point about, for example, today’s legislation and Government legislation, but it seems that the problem there is that Government Bills are getting insufficient scrutiny. I would suggest that you look at how you can get more scrutiny of Government legislation, rather than try to find ways to dumb down the scrutiny of private Members’ Bills in order to get to the lowest common denominator of scrutiny. That is where I would say the fault is. The programming system the Government use means that there is insufficient scrutiny of Government legislation, not too much scrutiny of private Members’ Bills.

Q63 Mr Nuttall: Changing tack slightly, to the actual number of private Members’ Bills, one of the suggestions made to the Committee is that, frankly, there are just far too many private Members’ Bills and that it is too easy for individuals to bring in a private Member’s Bill. Not only is there the ballot, but there are also the ten-minute rule procedure and presentation Bills. It has been suggested to us, for example, that there should be a limit on how many Bills a Member should have at any one time. I just wondered whether each witness could give me their view as to whether they think there is any merit in trying to limit the number of private Members’ Bills?

Philip Davies: I have no reason to want to reduce the number of opportunities that people have to bring forward private Members’ Bills, and I do not see the particular need to do that, but I do think that it is too easy to get a private Member’s Bill. Pick any legislation that you agree with the sentiment of and the spirit of and is perfectly well meaning, and I defy you to read through it and agree with every last clause and subsection. There will be something in there that has an unintended consequence, however well meaning the overall legislation is.

What happens is that a Bill is brought forward. Chris gave some examples of a cause for which everyone has sympathy and wants to advance and support it. They do not want to be castigated for being seen to be doing something to that particular agenda. So what happens is that everybody says, "I’ll go back to my constituency on a Friday and it will get nodded through. There will be flaws in the Bill, of course, but I don’t want to be seen to be raising my head above the parapet and drawing attention to them," and the Bill just goes through on the nod. If it was not for a dedicated group of people who actually do scrutinise private Members’ Bills, all sorts would go through without any amendment or thought.

Q64 Chair: So how can we improve the scrutiny of Private Members’ Bill? Do you think we should move the day from Friday? Do you think it would be do-able on a Wednesday or Thursday evening? That would save you some Fridays.

Philip Davies: I do not mind being here on a Friday. It is quite a good discipline. If somebody has a Bill that has genuine support, those people will not mind being there on a Friday to give it that. It is quite a good hurdle: that you might need 100 people there on a Friday is a pretty good test of how popular something is. I genuinely think that the issue is that they do not get enough scrutiny and we are too much invited to support the sentiment rather than the actual detail of the legislation. On the whole, I think the system works reasonably well and, basically, if people like me think that a Bill is not being scrutinised enough, it is my job to fill that void.

Q65 Chair: But Philip, you are arguing that Bills do not get enough scrutiny, and putting them on Friday ensures that they do not get enough scrutiny. Surely if they were on a different day of the week, the Whips could be much more open and up front about killing off the Bill; they would not have to come and give you a nudge and wink. Would it not be more transparent and open and a better exercise of democracy if Bills were killed on their own merit-if those who wanted to kill them off went through the Division Lobbies to kill them off, and those who wanted to support them, supported them?

Philip Davies: I am a Conservative: my view is that if it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change. I do not see a great necessity in changing the current regime, but that is my personal view.

Q66 Chair: I am just going to press you one more time. I am not meaning to be argumentative, but we have all given up our Wednesday afternoon to be here. You have said that they are not getting enough scrutiny. How can we ensure that they get more scrutiny?

Philip Davies: My view is that that is the responsibility of us all. If we want a particular piece of legislation to be properly scrutinised, it is our responsibility to turn up on a Friday, read through the Bill, speak about it, if necessary raise concerns on Second Reading and perhaps block it then, or it may be that you want to scrutinise it better on Report-it is the individual responsibility of us all. If we want to do that, we can do that. That is a choice that we can all individually make.

Q67 Chair: Final point. We have many people who are willing to turn up and support Bills on Friday, as Rebecca said. There were 144 people in her example-a lot of support-and only 10 people, I think you said, were willing to turn up and vote against it. It would seem in Rebecca’s case that there was a great deal more support for it than there was opposition to it. Why should there be a different set of rules for those opposing a Bill as for those supporting it?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Chairman, that does not necessarily follow, because you know if you do not turn up and a Bill has opposition that the 10 can oppose it. If you are opposing it, there is no benefit in turning up, whereas if you support it, you have to turn up to vote for the closure.

Q68 Chair: But for the sake of debate, let us have this discussion.

Philip Davies: As a quick example, if I know that eight or 10 of my colleagues will oppose a Bill on a Friday, I might think to myself, "I can go back to my constituency on Friday, because the job will be done without the need for me to be here." The numbers needed on either side are not necessarily relevant.

Rebecca Harris: You have spoken about the imbalance and how a cabal of 10 can talk something out on a Friday, which is also a disincentive, frankly, for those in favour of something. I had the experience of an enormous number of people saying, "I would love to, darling, but it is not going to go through, because the usual Friday faces will not let it." There were many more supporters of the Bill who felt that it was pointless to turn up, because they had seen that happen. I suggest that if you time-limited the debate-if you have a certain level of interest in your Bill and perhaps cross-party support-and a closure motion, you would actually get a better quality of scrutiny, because you would be arguing about the Bill. It would depend on the quality of the argument and the debate, rather than on who could keep talking until the bell went.

You would find that if 350 Members of this House desperately wanted to vote against something on a Friday, they would bother to turn up and would not have to rely on 10 people to talk it out. Bills would be defeated because that was genuinely the will of the House. They could genuinely argue against a Bill by saying, "It sounds a very nice sentiment, but we’re not going to cave in to it. We are going to explain honestly to our constituents why it is not the right thing to do," rather than say, "I’m in favour, but I can’t make it on a Friday." We would have a much more honest quality of debate if you could programme motion particularly Report stage, and people would have to turn up to oppose it on a Friday if they wanted to.

Q69 Jenny Chapman: I was really interested in this dispute between Philip and Rebecca because I attended on a Friday and listened to you both speak. It was really entertaining-I learned about someone’s relatives who had been to Antarctica and lots of fascinating background stuff. Whether or not that was the best example of scrutiny of a Bill that I have ever seen, I do not know, but I think it was probably not. Rebecca has made the point again and again about how we explain to our constituents what on earth is going on, because to them it just looks a completely mad and impenetrable way to do business. What is the alternative? You have said lots of things about having a closure motion, or doing this or that, but I am still not clear in my head what you think the alternative is.

Rebecca Harris: Can I just say that the other point is that there is a huge-

Chair: Rebecca, before you answer, may I bring in Chris just to keep it going? Chris, respond generally, and then Rebecca.

Mr Chope: There is a difference between scrutiny and opportunity for scrutiny. Obviously, everybody has the opportunity for scrutiny; sometimes, not many people exercise it. That is why recently three or four Bills went through their Report stage on a Friday. Although there was the opportunity for scrutiny, very few people wanted to do anything, because they were satisfied with the Bills.

I take Philip’s line: why change the system we have at the moment? Checks and balances are written in there. We have had two recent examples where, effectively, negotiations between a Bill’s promoter and those opposed to it resulted in amendments being accepted that enabled the Bill to make progress. For example, on the Scrap Metal Dealers Bill, Philip played a blinder and persuaded the promoter and the Government to introduce a sunset clause.

Rebecca Harris: It is acknowledged, though, to have that balance.

Mr Chope: Similarly, in slightly different circumstances, on Report of the Mobile Homes Bill, I was not here to move the amendment in my name, and Peter Bone moved it on my behalf. That was an amendment basically to say that the part of the Bill that our constituents really wanted to be implemented quickly should be implemented within two months of Royal Assent, rather than indefinitely.

Q70 Jenny Chapman: I understand that you two think it is okay as it is, because you feel comfortable with the way it all works. I want to get to what we could do to make it better, and I think that Rebecca is the person with something in mind.

Rebecca Harris: The irony about this discussion about proper scrutiny is that we could have had many hours of proper scrutiny, but because of the risk of a Bill being talked out, the 144 people who turned up-as I say, only 122 at any given time for the various votes-and I, as the promoter of the Bill, waived the right to speak to the amendments, because I wanted to save time, so you only heard the voices of the people opposed to the Bill. Those in favour of the Bill made the odd intervention to prove that they were there on a Friday, but they were being restrained and not therefore speaking in support of it.

The result was a very unbalanced debate, which seemed an absolute nonsense to the people interested in it. I think we could have had a much better quality of debate if we had a programmed Report stage and Third Reading or whatever, with an 8-minute rule on contributions. In such a debate, the quality of argument against the Bill would have been introduced, and not whether relatives had visited Antarctica. We would actually have had a debate on the merits of the issue, which might have achieved what we hope happens in debate in this House-that people may change the way they are thinking of voting because they had not appreciated errors, or what have you, in the legislation.

Q71 Jenny Chapman: So I am clear in my head, you think it should be kept on a Friday, but organised in a different way?

Rebecca Harris: I am not entirely clear on what we should do necessarily, and I will leave that to this Committee, but I do think that when a Bill clears a certain threshold of interest and support-when the will of this House is in favour of it-particularly on a Friday, which is a difficult day to get you all here, we could, for example, have a deferred Division on a Wednesday on whether it should be allowed to be programmed. At that point you know it is coming forward and that it is going to be programmed. If the Government are still concerned about it, they can encourage their people to come in and say, "We are very concerned about this," or they can persuade people with the arguments about why this is bad legislation, rather than saying, "Don’t worry, it’s happening on a Friday. We’ll get half a dozen people to come and talk nonsense."

Philip Davies: Can I just say that, to a certain extent, you should be careful what you wish for? If your view is that the Government already have too much control over private Members’ Bills, through handouts and whatever, and you move the day of the week to mid-week, you are basically handing total control over to the Government. With the payroll vote-

Jenny Chapman: You’ve got it at the moment.

Philip Davies: No, no. You are literally handing everything over. Chris gave the example of Austin Mitchell, who, against the will of the Government, managed to get 100 people for a closure motion. You can do that and the Government cannot beat that on a Friday, even if they are against it. They cannot beat 100 people coming for a closure motion, so that gives the MP who has the entrepreneurial spirit to muster some support more influence than they otherwise would have. You are giving more power to that Back Bencher. If you are a Back Bencher who is against a piece of legislation that the Government support, there is nothing you can do. Fridays are one of the few opportunities Back Benchers have to exercise real influence in terms of what Chris said about negotiating a better deal, getting amendments through and things like that. Fridays are one of those very rare days when there is a disproportionate amount of power in the hands of Back Benchers. That is a good thing. If you change the date or have deferred Divisions, you are handing the whole lot over to the Government without any opportunity for Back Benchers to make any difference whatever.

Mr Chope: And not just the Government, but the usual channels. Let us not forget that we talk in terms of Government and Opposition, but there are quite a lot of people-quite a lot of them in this room, actually-who find themselves not really enamoured with what the Opposition or the Government are doing. They have a chance to speak and participate on Fridays not as official Members of the Opposition or the Government, but as individual Back Benchers.

Q72 Mr Nuttall: I think I am right in saying that we have a more recent example than Austin Mitchell’s Bill. We have Rebecca’s Bill. Was it not the case that, on Second Reading, a Government Minister voted against it?

Rebecca Harris: Yes.

Q73 Mr Nuttall: So there is a recent example. That Second Reading went through against the Government’s will.

Philip Davies: So the chances are that if we had done what Rebecca wanted, or moved the date, it would not even have got past the Second Reading on that occasion.

Rebecca Harris: No, you could have said, "We have reached a certain threshold," and the Government would have had to accept that we would have a programme motion for the debate. I quite understand that an elected Government are entitled to try to make sure that they win their legislation, and they generally manage to do so-by whatever means. That does not take away the power of the Executive in any way. It merely takes away the power of a small minority on a Friday.

Q74 Mr Nuttall: Is it not the case that if the vote on that Bill had been on, for example, a Wednesday night, and the Government had whipped the vote as indicated by the way the Government Minister voted on Second Reading, then there would not have been a programme motion, because the Bill would have fallen? It would have fallen on Second Reading.

Q75 Jenny Chapman: But then it would have been clear.

Chair: Can I bring in Martin, who is sat here very silently?

Q76 Martin Vickers: Thomas rightly points to the Energy Bill and says that that is likely to be passed without sufficient scrutiny, yet Philip and others have said that we should not change the present system and the time devoted to private Members’ Bills. Thinking about the governance of the country as a whole, would it not be better if we spent more time scrutinising major Bills such as the Energy Bill and less time on what are, in some instances, more frivolous Bills?

Philip Davies: I am still reeling from Jenny saying that she found my speech on the Antarctic Bill entertaining. If she did, she was the only one. I cannot believe that she is being honest about that.

Chair: Our colleague, James Gray, was so moved by it that he is off to the Antarctic.

Philip Davies: To respond to the question, if I am perfectly honest, I do not see it as an either/or. I think there is a perfect opportunity to give more scrutiny to Government legislation in terms of stopping the programming of Government legislation. I do not really see that that has to be done at the expense of Fridays. Like I say, if there is a problem with Fridays, it is that Bills get too little scrutiny, but as Chris said, the opportunity is there to scrutinise them and put down amendments if people feel so motivated, so I do not really have a big issue. I do not see it as an either/or: we do need more scrutiny of Government legislation, but I do not think that that needs to be done instead of private Members’ Bills.

Mr Chope: In answer to Martin’s point, it is almost as though his question has been put by the Government-I know that it hasn’t been-because the Government are always interested in restricting the activities that are not controlled by the Government. The answer to the Energy Bill issue is that the usual channels have allowed a deal to be done that is going to prevent the Energy Bill being properly scrutinised: if the programme motion goes through this evening, the Report stage of the Energy Bill will be dealt with in one day together with Third Reading. That is the only opportunity that Members who are not on the Standing Committee have to scrutinise in any detail this very long and complex Bill. It is their only opportunity to bring forward their own amendments and ideas. They cannot do that if the time is very restricted and if priority is given, as it is on Report, to Government new clauses. Effectively, the Government have already closed down, through the programming system, a lot of opportunities for Back Benchers to come forward with independent ideas.

In the old days, lots of Back Benchers would get together and, perhaps without the authority of either the official Opposition or the Government, put forward a new clause that would then be debated and cause quite a lot of angst for the Government during Report stage. That opportunity for Back Benchers has been taken away. So to suggest that we should now take away our own Friday in order that the Government can provide more scrutiny is to look at this through the wrong end of the telescope. The Government have already taken away a lot of our opportunities. Why, having taken those opportunities away, should they be encouraged or facilitated to take away the few remaining opportunities that we have?

Jenny Chapman: Can I just ask one question?

Chair: No.

Jenny Chapman: Go on.

Chair: Very briefly, Jenny.

Q77 Jenny Chapman: Do you think it is a problem that it looks batty to people outside?

Philip Davies: I do not know whether it looks batty. Don’t think that many of the things that people say are batty happen only on a Friday. Those same things happen every single day of the week with Government legislation. I will give you an example. When you get a Government Bill on Report-the Energy Bill may well be one of those occasions-and lots of people table amendments, including Back Benchers, who may table unhelpful amendments, they get grouped. A particular amendment may be in the fourth group of amendments, and what you will find is that the Government will use its loyal Back Benchers to, in effect, talk at length on the earlier amendments to ensure that we do not reach that group of amendments. What you might call the talking-out procedure happens every day of the week in Report stages if the Government want to avoid getting to a troublesome or controversial amendment. I do not see why, all of a sudden, it is batty on a Friday, but it is absolutely fine and dandy on every other day of the week.

Q78 Thomas Docherty: Can I take a completely different tack about some of this stuff? If we accept the principle that there is not enough scrutiny of some of these Bills, you will probably be aware that other Parliaments have hoops that you have to jump through. In the Scottish Parliament, for example, you have to do 40 days of public consultation before you table your Bill. You have to get a certain number of Members from across the Chamber-from other parties-to sign up to your Bill. Are there steps that you think can be taken in the Commons, so that you have to demonstrate a level of pre-legislative scrutiny before you table your Bill, or prior to debating the Bill?

Mr Chope: Definitely not.

Philip Davies: Certainly not.

Rebecca Harris: I would be worried about anything that is expensive-public consultation, or what have you-but we already have the system of proposers for your Bill, which you try to make cross-party, and it would not do any harm to make that a larger element, to make sure you genuinely have cross-party support, or else a wide number of supporters in one party, perhaps. I do not have a problem with that; it shows that you have support within the House before you bring it forward, so that it is not simply purely your own hobby-horse which is about to use up valuable parliamentary time, especially as large numbers of Bills can come forward. I appreciate that perhaps the hurdle should be slightly higher, and we perhaps should have a smaller number.

When you are called in the ballot-well, the first way I knew I had made it into the top 10 was the phone starting to ring with people pushing their subjects to me. There is already quite a process that goes on there, with people pushing their ideas towards you, and you having to look at what will be a sensible thing to do. The smaller the group of people who are likely to get a private Member’s piece of legislation through, the more likely they are to look at that. If it were such that the more popular it was, or the broader the support, the more likely you were to take up the Bill in the first place, that seems quite a sensible way of trying to filter the use of parliamentary time, especially if we wanted in some way to make it a more useful use of parliamentary time, by making it achieve some more useful goals, rather than just being a Friday sideshow, which it too often is. Or it ends up being, frankly, a situation where you are taking through a Government handout Bill, which is basically using private Members’ time to get something through that the Government should and might have done in the first place.

Mr Chope: Can I add to my answer? Wouldn’t there be a danger of double jeopardy? If you are a singleton, say-the sole Member from a party-your chances of being successful in the ballot are very small; but if you are successful, surely you should be able to exercise your right to do what you want with your time on a Friday, rather than have to suffer the need to have other people come along and say, "We won’t allow you to do this unless you agree to this or that." We have always been jealous of the rights of minorities in this House, and that includes minorities of one or two. I fear that if you brought forward that sort of control it would end up being a control that was exercised by the large parties to the detriment of small groups of people.

Philip Davies: And just because something does not have cross-party support, that does not mean it is bad. Just because the only people who support it are all Labour MPs does not necessarily make it a bad thing, just as if something only has the support of Conservative MPs that does not make that a bad thing, either. It is entitled to be debated. Often it is the things that have cross-party support that do not get sufficient scrutiny.

Rebecca Harris: It does not have to be cross-party. It could be a sufficient number of Members, so that you are not using it as one person’s private Member’s Bill.

Philip Davies: Why can’t you? We have all been elected in our own constituencies. If we want to pursue a particular subject in the House after winning in the ballot, and it is something that we and our constituents feel strongly about, even if nobody else does, why can we not raise it and give it as good a go as we can? If it has no other support, it will get blocked and voted down anyway.

Q79 Thomas Docherty: We saw that not so much today but a couple of weeks ago, on a ten-minute rule Bill. I organised to defeat Richard Bacon’s ten-minute rule Bill because it did not have enough support in the House. But Christopher and I have both used presentation Bills to some effect. Now, without getting into a debate about them in themselves, there was no ballot involved in that; there was no vote of the Floor; it just happened that we both got to be at the front of the queue. We then had a lot of hours of debate where we did not have to demonstrate any other support whatever. That was where I was coming from.

Mr Chope: But we cannot equate ten-minute rule Bills with presentation Bills; that is a different procedure. There is nothing to stop Richard Bacon bringing that same Bill forward as a presentation Bill. Although technically we talk about seeking leave to bring in a Bill, that is only a device that enables somebody to have 10 minutes at prime time promoting their pet subject.

Q80 Chair: How about this, just for the sake of argument? You get rid of presentation Bills, you get rid of the ballot, everything has to come through the ten-minute rule Bill process, and you have to get your idea on the Floor, but all ten-minute rule Bills are voted on. Any of those that secure the majority of the House go through to a more thorough Second Reading and a planning stage. Do you see what I mean? That way, the concept is tested earlier in the process.

Mr Chope: I am against more regulation; I am in favour of deregulation, and I think that it would be wrong to introduce that sort of control when there is no evidence against the system that operates at the moment. If you present a presentation Bill, you will be pretty lucky if you have the chance to debate it on the Floor of the House, but there are procedures there. If you are lucky, you will have a chance to debate it. Does it matter whether it is supported by hundreds of MPs or not very many? I had a Bill called the Employment Opportunities Bill, which was designed to enable people to opt out of the minimum wage. It was taken so seriously by Lord Prescott, as he is now, that he organised an e-mailing campaign. That meant that the subject was raised among the general public. Now, why should I have had to go off and jump through a whole lot of hoops in order to be able to bring forward that Bill?

Philip Davies: The other thing is that, of course, on a ten-minute rule Bill, you do not get a Minister’s response-you do not get the Government’s response. You get two individuals standing up and speaking. If it was an embarrassing subject for the Government and they did not want to have to give their response, they would just organise for it to be voted down at the ten-minute rule stage and we would never hear what the Government’s view was. If people bring forward their Bill, through whatever mechanism they have used their initiative to employ, they are perfectly entitled to get a Minister’s response to it, and you do not get that for a ten-minute rule Bill.

Mr Chope: And of course, the Bill is not printed. We could say that you could present a ten-minute rule Bill, but then all you do is describe what it will do. The Bill is not actually there; you cannot see what is in it.

Q81 Chair: A couple of other things, colleagues, please. Time limits on speeches: I imagine that two of the three witnesses before us are against them, but why not time speeches? As much as I love hearing Phil Davies speak, for example, I want to be left wanting more as opposed to less. It’s like caviar really-if you have too much, it becomes rather sickly, but if you have a little bit-

Jenny Chapman: Some of us wouldn’t know, Chair.

Chair: Yeah, all right. [Laughter.] Halfway through that, I realised it’s somewhere I don’t want to be going. But, seriously, why can we not have time limits on speeches?

Mr Chope: Well, obviously you could have time limits on speeches, but, again, it’s horses for courses. On Report, we sometimes find there are groups of amendments so large that just to address each of those amendments briefly takes a lot longer than the time limit that you probably have in mind. Who is going to decide?

Q82 Chair: What about time limits on Second Reading? We have got one up there on the annunciator now-I think the time limit is six minutes. Why would private Members’ Bills not be deserving of time limits on Second Reading?

Mr Chope: I don’t see that the need for that has been proved. If you gave the Chair the power to introduce time limits, you would probably get all sorts of distortions, because people would put in to speak and then withdraw their names, and all that sort of stuff. Yesterday, I was chairing a session in Westminster Hall in which the time limit had to be brought down to three minutes, but almost all the speeches were on one side of the argument, so that in itself did not present a balanced picture. People wanted to speak, but we could have had a longer argument from people who were on one side of the proposition and less from the other side. Introducing more controls is going to be wholly counter-productive.

Rebecca Harris: Unsurprisingly, I think that time limits are a superb idea. When I spoke about a programme motion for Report, this is precisely the problem. I do not understand Chris Chope’s suggestion that there would be an imbalance; the imbalance is that two or three people can talk for an hour each, whereas maybe more than 100 people, who would dearly like to put their case, are not wanting to use up any time at all and therefore not putting their case. That is a huge imbalance, so time limits would be superb. They would improve the quality of the debate and the argument, because people would be concise and make the points that they meant, rather than discussing their trip to Antarctica. We would have a Bill argued out, if necessary, on the merits of the case, rather than someone’s ability to talk for a very long time, and you would also get a much more democratic-that is, proportionate-debate, because if you only have 10 people against and 100 in favour, many more people would be able to speak in favour. I cannot see what distortion there would possibly be. It would be a very good idea.

Q83 Chair: But perhaps those against would have to muster more of their troops to come along?

Rebecca Harris: Absolutely. Precisely so, it would be much more democratic. They could not rely on a small number who can talk for a very long time.

Philip Davies: This is Parliament, though. Saying that we will have this sort of tyranny where you can only speak for so long-

Q84 Chair: But we have it. We have it on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Philip Davies: But the issue is whether we are treating the Energy Bill today as the goal that we should try to match for everything. I would argue that the system is wrong at the moment.

Q85 Chair: But, Philip, if there are lots of people who want to speak on a Bill, why should you, say, or Mr Chope get an hour and a half and crowd out all the other people who have got something to say?

Philip Davies: We don’t get an hour and a half, and of course the Speaker is there to make sure that we are sticking to the subject, that we are relevant, that we are not repeating ourselves and that we are not reading. All those checks and balances are there to stop anybody from abusing the time on the Floor of the House.

Q86 Chair: Are you saying that with an entirely straight face?

Philip Davies: Absolutely.

Q87 Mr Nuttall: I think that it is under Standing Order No. 47(1) that it states: "The Speaker may announce that he intends to call Members to speak in a debate, or at certain times during that debate, for no longer than any period he may specify". It just is the case that that Standing Order is not used for Private Members’ Bill business. I was interested in what Rebecca said about time limits. I think you were suggesting that there would be time limits on Report.

Rebecca Harris: Or on Third Reading.

Q88 Mr Nuttall: We never have time limits on Report.

Rebecca Harris: That is fair. I don’t see why it should be the case that at the moment we have the ability for two or three people to take the entirety of a Friday, when we do not allow it any more on any other piece of legislation that we see in this House. It does not make sense.

Q89 Mr Nuttall: I do not think there are time limits on Report.

Chair: No, you are right; there are not time limits then.

Rebecca Harris: But the Report stage could be programmed so that it ended after a certain time, and you would have time limits on Third Reading.

Philip Davies: But with programming on Report, you would have what happens now, which I think is an absolute disgrace to Parliament. You get groups of amendments, which may be perfectly good, that have not been considered and do not even get debated, because they do not meet the time limit. That is an absolute travesty in Government legislation. If we were to try to follow that and say that that was the benchmark that we should follow, that would be a sad day for Parliament.

Chair: You will be pleased to know that the Committee is doing a parallel inquiry into programming, so you might be giving evidence twice.

Q90 Thomas Docherty: Does it not come back to the point that there are still other opportunities for scrutiny-I accept not on the Floor of the House-in either Bill Committee in the Commons or, assuming it started in the Commons, when it goes to the Lords, which does not have time limits or programming? The legislation can therefore be debated and scrutinised.

Philip Davies: But not by me. If I have a particular view on a Bill and I am not on the Committee-

Q91 Thomas Docherty: You’re a popular guy. You have many friends in the parliamentary party, I’m sure. Can you not find colleagues to-

Philip Davies: I am sure Thomas is doing his job on the Committee and testing it out, but I am sure that even he as a Labour Member can’t believe that scrutiny by an elected Member can be replaced by scrutiny by someone who is unelected in the House of Lords as an alternative. We should have scrutiny in both Houses.

Mr Chope: And the irony is that there is a convention in the House of Lords that they do not interfere too much with Private Members’ Bills that have come through our House. That is the convention. If you change the balance of any convention, it will result in changes in the Lords. If they started scrutinising our Private Members’ Bills in a lot more detail, we would find that the three or four that went through on one Friday to the other place will not come out of there so quickly. We have to look at all these balances. I know you are discussing Private Members’ Bills, but look at what happens with private Bills. There are no controls over the length of speeches in private Bills, and there is an encouragement of proper scrutiny. As a result, private Bills that have gone through both Houses have been significantly amended for the better. For example, the pedlars Bills first came into the House in the Session prior to 2010, and four of them have now re-emerged from the other place, having had their Third Readings, several years later. They are almost completely emasculated, because people have realised that they were ill conceived in the first place. That is as a result of iterative and effective scrutiny.

Rebecca Harris: I think the crux of the matter is that you can talk about a private Member’s Bill on Report at great length and, therefore, people do not turn up and take an interest in it. If we knew there would be a proper vote on this, and it would not just go into the long grass-it could not just run out of time-you would get a better quality of debate. People would actually turn up and make a decision on it, and the Government would make a proper decision on it. We would have a proper arbiter and proper scrutiny of it. We do not get that at the moment, because quite often we never get to an actual decision. There is never a final vote yes or no from the House.

Q92 Martin Vickers: Following on from Jenny’s comment about things appearing batty, public perception of what goes on this place is at a pretty low ebb, and talking out is part of that. With private Members’ Bills, lobby groups are engaged. If you take Rebecca’s Bill as an example, I supported it because it was of particular importance to the tourist industry and I was heavily lobbied by local people. The impression was gained that this was going to be a serious debate, that arguments would be put on both sides and that people would weigh it up and vote accordingly. It became very evident to me, as someone who does not follow a lot of private Members’ Bills-unlike Chris and Philip-that as soon as the Government said they were consulting the devolved Assemblies and so on, that was the end of it anyway because the Scots were going to slam the door on it. Do you accept that public perception is important and that we ought to change our ways in order to achieve more active involvement and get the confidence of the public?

Philip Davies: My view is that public perception is dependent on which side of the argument they are on. If somebody is greatly in favour of a Bill and sees that it reaches the end of its time and it has been, in effect, blocked, they think that is an absolute travesty of parliamentary procedure and it is potty, or barmy, or whatever word Jenny used. That is what their view will be. Of course, if they are against the Bill, they will be celebrating the fact that Parliament has this procedure where things can be debated at length and properly scrutinised, and it is a great triumph for parliamentary democracy. Whether you think it is batty or not is very much dependent on which side of the argument you are on with regard to a particular Bill.

All I would say to people is, "Beware of what you wish for." There may well be Bills that you think are good that have been blocked, and you change the procedures to deal with that particular frustration, but believe you me, there will be Bills that come along through this route that you do not support. At that time, you will be thinking, "Oh my goodness me, why have we removed any checks and balances on these things so that we are now unable to stop this Bill from going through?" Your view on any Bill is coloured a great deal by which side of the argument you are on.

Q93 Chair: But Mr Davies, would I not say, "Oh my gosh, I don’t like this Bill at all; I’d better give up the Friday visit to the local primary school and get down to London to vote against it"?

Philip Davies: You may, but if you are talking about keeping it on a Friday, if you were just to say that everything had to have a vote on Second Reading but the rest would stay the same, I suspect what would probably happen-this would be even more unfortunate-is that people who were against a Bill would think, "We have had something to deal with a particular supposed issue, because I was frustrated that my Bill did not get through and so I wanted all the rules changed." Once, we have changed it, the modus operandi will change and perhaps what you will find is that people will start tabling 250 amendments on Report in order to achieve the same outcome at a future date. All you will find is a change of strategy. I don’t think you will see a change in outcome.

Q94 Mr Nuttall: Don’t you think there is an argument for private Member’s Bills having greater scrutiny than Government Bills because in the main Government Bills have been foreshadowed in a manifesto which the country has had a chance to vote on, whereas private Member’s Bills are often just the thoughts of one Member? For that reason, if no other, there should be greater rather than less scrutiny.

Mr Chope: I do not accept the premise of the question, particularly in the light of the gay marriage stuff. That is an argument for having pre-legislative scrutiny of gay marriage, but we are not going into that now, I know. May I, in answer to that question, make one suggestion which I hope the Committee might take up? At the moment, as Rebecca knows, the Government give themselves belt and braces in a Bill that needs a money resolution by having the whip hand over whether they will allow time for the money resolution to be debated. There always used to be a convention that if a Bill got a Second Reading and it needed a money resolution, then the money resolution would be provided by the Government in Government time, as night follows day. That convention was abandoned in the case of Rebecca’s Bill and has also been abandoned in other cases. I think it would be very good if this Committee could recommend strongly that, in the event of a Bill getting a Second Reading, a money resolution should be allowed time for debate almost immediately afterwards.

Q95 Chair: I thank the Committee for coming. This has been a robust canter around the issues. Thank you for being so honest and frank. I don’t think anybody listening, or the person listening, would have been bored by the exchanges today. On the issue of caviar, I was offered it on a couple of occasions in my younger years. I accepted it but I did not inhale. Caviargate has been put to bed. Seriously, what a really powerful set of witnesses you were. You really were fantastic. I wish you all a very merry Christmas and you can continue the bust-up outside in the Corridor. Thank you very much.

Prepared 21st February 2013