Procedure Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 786

House of commons

oral EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE THE

Procedure Committee

private members’ bills

Wednesday 6 March 2013

David Natzler, Simon Patrick and Kate Emms

Evidence heard in Public Questions 205 - 302

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 6 March 2013

Members present:

Mr Charles Walker (Chair)

Jenny Chapman

Nic Dakin

Thomas Docherty

Sir Roger Gale

Mr James Gray

John Hemming

Mr David Nuttall

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Martin Vickers

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: David Natzler, Clerk Assistant, Simon Patrick, Clerk of Bills, and Kate Emms, Clerk of Private Members’ Bills, gave evidence.

Q205 Chair: Thank you for coming to see us today. We are reaching the final evidence sessions of our inquiry into private Members’ Bills-and what a happy journey it has been, full of excitement, with a few tears along the way.

Is there anything you would like to say about the process before we start? Have you prepared any preliminary statements?

David Natzler: No. I am sure you know by now-this is not false modesty-rather more about this than we do, and you have come to some ideas you want to try on us, as I understand it.

Q206 Chair: I will start and then colleagues will pile in. My primary concern is that it is a very opaque process-it is not a very transparent process-and this seems to cause a great deal of anguish to those organisations and individuals trying to work with Members of Parliament to participate in the process, and also Members of Parliament themselves. I wonder whether it is, if not a concern you appreciated, a concern that you recognise.

David Natzler: Yes, we do recognise it-"we" being the House Service. I will pass on to Kate, because I think she is in receipt of quite a lot of the direct responses from members of the public, who find the whole thing mystifying, irritating and, in some senses, misleading. They think there is a legislative proposition of some sort that is riding and going somewhere. It is Kate who perhaps has the duty more than other people, as well as the people in the Public Information Office, to explain that it isn’t going anywhere and that Parliament, in a sense, may take it seriously, but doesn’t seem to be taking it very seriously.

Q207 Chair: Absolutely. I will just add one caveat to that: I don’t think there is a huge will among members of the Committee to make the process hugely easy, in a sense, so that loads and loads of Bills get on the statute book. I think the process should be challenging. It may be that we make changes that don’t guarantee that any more legislation gets on the statute book, but we just make the process much more transparent and accessible.

Kate Emms: I think making any process more transparent and accessible has to be a good idea, particularly with private Members’ Bills. Only yesterday I had a phone call from a member of the public who was concerned about a Bill that is down for Second Reading on 26 April and what was going to happen to it. The Bill is on the Order Paper. It says quite clearly above it "The House is not expected to be sitting on this day", but I had to explain that nothing was going to happen to this Bill. This is a conversation I have very regularly. It is usually absolutely fine, but one does feel for people who have a very particular interest in a piece of legislation and have expectations of it, whether they are realistic or not. It is explaining that the last sitting Friday has happened, that this is a question of keeping the titles of a Bill on the Order Paper, and that it will fall when the House prorogues prior to the Queen’s Speech. It is straightforward as far as we are concerned, but not if you are a member of the public looking in.

Q208 Chair: That is one area of opaqueness. The other area is obviously around how Bills progress on the Floor of the House-being talked out and with parliamentary games played around them so that a very small number of people can block progress. It is absolutely fine, and we accept in this Committee, that if the Government do not want a Bill to progress, they have every right to make sure that it doesn’t. However, we are left in a situation where you have bodies of people who think the Government have been supporting a Bill when, in reality, they have not-they have been persuading two or three colleagues to ensure it doesn’t go anywhere, but in a sense the Government have clean hands and the Minister can be sympathetic to the aggrieved parties.

David Natzler: I am sure we will come on to the issue about who can block, and should be allowed to block, progress or to question Bills and at what stage. In terms of transparency, the Committee might want to think of how to bring about ways of making people show their hand. I would caution that it is not just the Government; it is also yourselves. Other Back Benchers may not want to be seen to oppose a Bill but, of course, by staying away, they are effectively not supporting it. The official Opposition may sometimes not think much of a Bill but, again, may not want to be put in a position of saying whether it is for or against it, as may any groups of Members. I would urge that there are quite a lot of people who, under the current system, can just stay away without having to show their hand for or against in any way. It is not just Ministers.

Q209 Chair: It does seem that the Government seem to be the main culprit in this. That is not to say there are not other culprits, but would you not agree that the finger of suspicion does invariably point towards the Government?

David Natzler: In normal circumstances, the Government control the majority of the House. So, yes, if they want something to happen, it will eventually tend to happen, subject to other things.

Q210 Chair: My final observation is that I understand that 10 private Members’ Bills will become Acts in this Session, of which nine are hand-out Bills.

David Natzler: There could be more transparency-no doubt about it-as to who has drafted a Bill and the extent of prior Government support that it enjoys. One could imagine you could have ways, which I don’t suppose those who are sponsoring them would object to, in which it was obvious to everybody from the start that these Bills enjoyed the active support of Ministers. The traditional way of doing that, of course, which would probably not be appropriate for a private Member’s Bill, is that they should be one of the supporters.

Q211 Chair: It would seem to me that, in essence, if the Government did object to a hand-out Bill being flagged up, there is a problem. If the Government are relaxed about the process, it is absolutely fine, and they can say, "We are more than happy to be associated with this Bill." But later on, when we publish a report, if they say, "Well, we don’t like the idea of having to put our hand up to say this is a hand-out," that would suggest that there has been an abuse of this system and that it actually is a second route for Government to get their legislation on the statute book outside the Queen’s Speech.

David Natzler: Just to say on hand-out Bills-I don’t know if my colleagues want to join me-we were talking before about the spectrum of so-called hand-out Bills. I imagine there are those when a Member has gone to the Government Department or to someone and said, "I know what I want to do. Are you in favour of it and will you draft me a Bill?" That is at one end of the spectrum. At the other end, they may indeed go to the Whips and say, "I have no idea what to introduce. Can we find a small Bill that the Government have in their drawer that hasn’t got through the Legislation Committee, and therefore isn’t in the Government’s programme, which it would be helpful for me to introduce?" I would suggest there is quite a difference across that spectrum.

Secondly-and I am sure you are not suggesting this-there is nothing improper or inappropriate about a Member supporting something that the Government are doing.

Q212 Chair: Absolutely not. It is transparency that we are after.

David Natzler: Absolutely, I understand that.

Chair: It is transparency. We need to understand what is going on.

David Natzler: To take the example of the Antarctic Bill, there could hardly but be transparency because, from memory, the Government had published it as a draft Bill some 18 months before it was introduced as a private Member’s Bill.1 However, I am sure that Mr Carmichael was very keen on the substance of it and actively wanted to pursue it. I think no one was suggesting it was not drafted by the Government, because it would have been absurd to suggest that.

Chair: A final point. The description on the tin is "private Members’ Bills" and the public think those Bills on the statute book will be generated by private Members. That is what they think. They would be interested to know that of the 10 that will get on statute book this Session, nine were basically Government-sponsored Bills. That may not be a thing that concerns them, but at least they should be aware of that.

Q213 Mr Gray: Let me come back to the question of obscurity and opaqueness. Obviously nobody would argue in favour of something being obscure and opaque, and clearly there must be some things that can be improved upon. Having a Bill put down to be read for Second Reading on a day when the House is not sitting is plainly absurd. There are things like "I spy strangers", which you might think are out of date, so there are things that could be clarified. Leaving that on one side for a moment, am I right in thinking that you were hinting-I think it is a perfectly reasonable hint-that it is perfectly legitimate for Members of Parliament of all kinds, whether it be Government or Back Bencher, to use clever parliamentary procedures to prevent something happening that they don’t want to happen? That can be as simple as staying away, as you said, or it can be using a variety of other parliamentary mechanisms. If that is what you did intend to mean, would you not agree that there is a risk that if you seek to make the thing so extraordinarily simple, clear and straightforward, you are by that means removing some of the weapons available to those people who are opposed to a particular Bill?

David Natzler: I hope I was saying that if procedures are there and are authorised by the House by Standing Order or convention, they are there to be used. It is certainly not for us on this side of the table to judge whether it is a good thing to use them or not.

Q214 Mr Gray: No, but we are considering changing them.

David Natzler: Sorry, that was the first part of your question, James.

Mr Gray: The purpose of this Committee is to consider whether to change those Standing Orders.

David Natzler: I understand. And on the second part of your question-I just wanted to establish on the first-yes, we are certainly saying if there are procedures, it is reasonable to use them. If you reduce them, does that take away the ability of people to use something like them? Well, inevitably, yes. On the third point, I do not think that that necessarily needs to discourage you from looking for if not simplification, then what I think the Chair called transparency-or the absence of obscurity-so that there is a clear route and people know who has done what.

One example, which I don’t know if you are considering, is the issue of objection being taken. There has long been controversy about whether it is right that objection is anonymous? It is of course anonymous only as long as the Member whose Bill has been objected to does not seek to identify the source of the objection through a point of order. The objection is anonymous because, effectively, what is being sought is the unanimous leave of the House and that leave has been refused. It has never been the practice that people have to identify who they are-or, indeed, why they are, and a single cry of "Object" is enough.

If you were to simplify that by, as it were, throwing a torch on to that individual, yes, you might then make it more difficult for them to object, but if they want to object, they still could.

Q215 Mr Gray: Hansard doesn’t record who shouts "Object", does it?

David Natzler: No.

Q216 Mr Gray: That is interesting.

The second part of this, and a more central part in a way: would you not agree with me that the whole question here is whether we want private Members’ Bills to become law? In his evidence earlier on, the Clerk of the House suggested that he thought that the main purpose of Friday debates-let’s call them that for the sake of argument-is to air an issue, to have a bit of a chat about it and to bring it to the notice of the public. I think, broadly, his thesis was that if you think the purpose is to create law, you are wrong.

David Natzler: I am not going to disagree with what Sir Robert has said. I actually don’t think that that is quite what he said. I think perhaps he was saying that the criterion of the value of these hours and days, and the amount of effort and work that everybody puts into it, is not to be measured merely by the output of statute law. Kate has the list of the 20 ballot winners this time. I think 10 are getting on to the statute book, is that right?

Kate Emms: I think there were 10 hand-out Bills and nine may go on to the statute book.

David Natzler: That is neither a sign of success or failure. When you look at some of those that are not, they certainly gave rise to significant and possibly influential debates. There was Mr McDonnell on the Governor of the Bank of England, which of course was rather before the Treasury Committee was then invited to have a pre-appointment hearing with Mr Tucker. Barbara Keeley had a day on carers. You say it is just debate, but that is what the House is meant to do.

Q217 Mr Gray: What I am getting at is still on this question of clarity and the public understanding what we are doing here. We had evidence last week from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, which was very concerned that the Daylight Savings Bill had been lost. It thought it was going to become law, but had it asked somebody in advance, it was perfectly obvious it wasn’t going to become law. Therefore is the purpose behind the day of itself misleading? By calling it "private Members’ Bills", is it misleading? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to call it an extra day of Back-Bench business for open debate?

David Natzler: No, I don’t think so, I should say, because quite a lot of the Bills become law. Half the ones from the ballot did. Every year there are usually one or two presentation Bills even, or 10-minute rule Bills, that become law. I am not saying that is a sign of success, but by the concentration on legislation-and particularly with the opportunity that the Backbench Business Committee now offers private Members’ motions-I think the distinction has become more useful. We went through a long period when private Members could not bring forward motions because there was no way to get them on to the paper, so it may then have been that the route of private Members’ Bills became a bit of a muddle. But these are now legislative propositions. For example, the Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill is the sort of thing you can debate and talk about. However, at the end of the day, some Members wanted to change the law, and I think that is one of the ones-

Kate Emms: It has had Royal Assent.

David Natzler: It has had Royal Assent, so it has got through. I would have thought that is a success, or that it makes the thing worth while.

Chair: I am going to let colleagues know in what order we are going: we have Thomas, then Roger, then Jacob, then John. Thomas.

Q218 Thomas Docherty: A couple of questions. First, surely the point about these Fridays is that you actually need a Bill to be presented, so it is not like an Opposition day or Backbench Business Committee debate when you are having a general debate about carers. You are actually saying, "There is a Bill and there is a specific change I want to make," so is it a different shape to the debate than if you just have a Backbench business debate? It is a very leading question, isn’t it?

David Natzler: No, I don’t think it is a leading question, but I think the answer is yes. It is different. The ideas have been crystallised into a legislative form by which the Member concerned and the sponsors of the Bill will stand or fall. Also, the decision at the end is different from agreeing or not agreeing to a resolution. The Backbench Business Committee is now producing resolutions that the Government have begun to accept a little bit, even though perhaps in their heart they don’t really agree with them, but once a Bill has had a Second Reading, that has a known significance, although it does not mean it is going to become law, as we know. But, yes, I agree that that is what makes it different.

Q219 Thomas Docherty: On the issue of sitting Fridays, am I right that technically, if the Government do not listen to those parliamentarians who want 26 March, and we sit on Friday 22 March to debate the Budget and the debate does not last the whole day-if it goes down early or, for whatever reason, it runs out of speakers-those Bills that are on the Order Paper for that day have an opportunity to be debated for the remaining time until-

David Natzler: They won’t be put on the Order Paper for that day by the Government, who control the Order Paper for that day. It is not a day allocated to private Members’ Bills, per se.

Q220 Thomas Docherty: So even if the Government lost speakers and the House stopped at 12 o’clock, those Back Benchers on the day won’t get-

Simon Patrick: The Government obviously put things on particular days, usually everything on the next day, and announce things for the business statement. Then on every sitting day, they give the Table Office what they want on the Order Paper for the following day, and basically it is distinguishing between the things that they are actually going to do on that day, which go in the effective orders-the actual Order Paper-and the remaining orders that are nominally down for that day, which would include those private Members’ Bills, but they would not be expected to be taken then. They will come at the end after all the Government business. The actual distinction is that the Government are indicating when they are proposing to move the adjournment. If the Government do not move the adjournment, we will go on to the remaining orders. This is extremely rare. It happens sometimes when someone wants to do something completely different or when a dissolution has been announced or something like that, but otherwise the Government would be expected to move the adjournment after the debate on the Budget.

Thomas Docherty: I am not as bright as the Clerk, but that sounds quite opaque and-

Q221 Jacob Rees-Mogg: Is the adjournment voted for?

Thomas Docherty: Yes, the Norway debate.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: So if fewer than 40 people took part in the decision, the private Members’ Bills would then go ahead.

Simon Patrick: I suppose so, yes, if we had a lot of them.2

David Natzler: If you are seeking procedural advice on Friday 22 March, let us see if we are sitting and we will then happily give that to both of you.

Q222 Thomas Docherty: Thank you. Could you write to us after tonight’s vote?

David Natzler: We will.

Q223 Thomas Docherty: On Bill Committees, Philip Davies said something that I agreed with when he gave evidence a few weeks ago, which is that this inquiry has understandably been drilling on to the Chamber day and what happens with procedures, but the way the Bill Committees work is perhaps unsatisfactory. Again, we can use the Daylight Savings Bill as an example, when in effect the Government sat and sat on that Bill and would not let it into a Committee. If we were reforming the Bill process, what changes would you recommend to the way the Bill Committees work? What changes could be made to the Bill Committee stages?

David Natzler: Shall I start and then ask my colleagues to come in? I think you think that it isn’t obviously right that, once the House has given the Bill a Second Reading, it shouldn’t be able to come on to the Committee stage when the Member in charge is ready and the Committee of Selection has named the Members and a Chair has been named. That does seem fairly obvious. The provisions in the Standing Order, which were introduced when we introduced Public Bill Committees, about not having more than two at once unless the Government allowed it-putting it crudely-were because I think at the time we had not worked out how to deal with the collapse of what used to be called "the Standing Committee C system", where there was a single silo in which private Members’ Bills queued up and as one dropped out of the bottom, the next one came in the frame. The idea was that we were not going to have Standing Committees A, B, C, D, E, F, G and H or whatever-we would just have ones named after the Bills. So that Standing Order was passed, perhaps without anticipating that it might be used obstructively. I don’t believe it has been. But, the issue of the money resolution, which is the second issue, is that it used to be-and I think it remains-the convention that the Government will, in reasonable time, provide a money resolution if one is needed for a Bill to proceed in Committee. My understanding is that with the Daylight Saving Bill there was a delay in doing that.

If you are asking how such delays could be stopped in future, at the end of the day, only a Minister can move a money resolution-that is a fairly constitutional necessity. But evidently a strongly expressed view by the Committee might then be endorsed by the House that either within a given period of time or within reasonable time-or in some way-the money resolution should be provided and that process should not be used as a means of stopping the regular process of a Bill going into Committee. Obviously, sometimes the Member in charge may themselves want to delay until they have finished negotiations with the Government on amendments or redrafting the Bill. So those are the two forms of delay.

If I can mention one third issue, which is something again we were talking about beforehand? Looking at the Bills that have gone through with a large measure of agreement, mainly what the Chair calls hand-out Bills-

Chair: I think most people call them hand-out Bills. That is just a general-

David Natzler: It is. I did not mean to focus on you in particular!

With hand-out Bills, sometimes the Committee stages are rather brief-in fact they are very brief. I see two of the Chairs who preside over these stages. There are no amendments put down, so what happens is the Committee basically has a further Second Reading debate on clause 1 stand part, and then the rest of the clauses are effectively put on the nod. There is no alternative to that. You cannot force people to put down probing amendments or to have individual stand part debates. When it then comes for the Speaker to have to decide on Report which amendments to select and how to group them, unlike in another Bill, he cannot say, "Well, this matter was properly discussed at Committee," because it wasn’t, so some of these Bills are going through. Now they may be absolutely perfect in every respect, and you may find the Report debates led by a few particular Members annoying, but they are raising points that have generally not been raised in Committee because no points were raised in Committee. I think that is a slight worry as to how one might make the Public Bill Committee stage a little bit more what a Public Bill stage3 is meant to be. How you do that, having got to that, I am afraid we have no brilliant idea, but it would help.

Q224 Sir Roger Gale: To some extent, Tom has raised one of the issues that I wanted to raise. If I read what you are saying right, I think it is important that one of the things this Committee covers in our report is the delaying of the process by Government in terms of Committee. There should be a time scale within which a Bill is allowed to go into Committee, if it has had a Second Reading, and there therefore should be a time scale on the money resolution, so a Minister must have a duty to do that. Is that correct?

David Natzler: It is certainly correct that if you think he does have a duty, you might find a way of making that very clear, if there is any doubt.

Q225 Sir Roger Gale: Once the will of the House has been expressed that the Bill has a Second Reading, it should then be allowed to get on with its stages.

David Natzler: That would be a reasonable conclusion for you to express, I think.

Q226 Sir Roger Gale: On from there, there is then the sheer practicality of the number of Committees that might sit at any one time. So, in staffing terms-in clerking terms, in Hansard terms and everything else-physically what could we handle? We have two at the moment. We might have five private Members’ Bills all having had their Second Reading, all queuing up waiting to be heard. Is there any reason why they should not-

David Natzler: I am going to ask the Clerk of Bills, who is in charge of this whole hopeless process. But just to say that you represent one filter, which is the Chairman of Ways and Means and the Chair, because if I am right, the actual first day of a Public Bill Committee is named by the Chair and not by the Member in charge. So if things became hopeless-and one hopes they wouldn’t-because suddenly six Bills went through on day one, let’s say, and they all said, "Let’s start in a week’s time," what would we do? We would rely on the Chairs to say, "Well, we are going to have to ration it in some way," because, as you say, there are not unlimited rooms. There are not unlimited Members to serve on these committees if they are also meant to be on Government PBCs.

Simon Patrick: If we continue with the usual procedure that Public Bill Committees on private Members’ Bills normally meet on Wednesdays, which is when Government Public Bill Committees are not meeting, it should be possible-it might get difficult, but it should be possible-to cope with at least two in one week without too much difficulty. We might be able to manage more than that. We could use both Wednesday mornings and afternoons, if they continue to be perhaps just one sitting and sometimes, very rarely, two sittings. Obviously, this depends. The last time I was in the Public Bill Office in the 1980s, I remember that there was a Bill-the Government were not opposing it-about in vitro fertilisation. It had quite strong opposition and ran for several weeks, including an all-night sitting. If you get Bills like that, obviously there is a limit to the number of those we can cope with at any given time. But if the normal number of Bills that is agreed to any given Friday-one or two, and sometimes none at all-happen, we should be able to cope with the workload.

Q227 Sir Roger Gale: That is manageable, right.

I ought to know the answer to this but I am ashamed to say that I don’t. When 10-minute rule Bills are handed in, they are very often dummies. Are all Bills that are on the Order Paper as presentation Bills-once they have reached that stage-all drafted? Do they actually exist?

Kate Emms: No. No, they don’t.

Q228 Sir Roger Gale: So a Bill set down as No. 4 on a Friday could actually not be-

Kate Emms: No, by the time you get to a Friday, they are all printed Bills, but they can be on the Order Paper on the Thursday prior to the Friday unprinted. They have to go to the printer on a Wednesday to be debated on the Friday, so if they don’t go to the printer and are not printed overnight, on the Thursday they are taken off the Order Paper for the Friday.

Q229 Sir Roger Gale: So all Bills that appear on the Order Paper at any time actually exist?

Kate Emms: On the effective orders, yes.

Q230 Sir Roger Gale: So the public at least are not being misled into thinking that there is a Bill when there is no Bill at all?

Kate Emms: No, not by the Friday.

David Natzler: Not on the Fridays, but there is a very strong point that with 10-minute rule Bills, you can put something down for a future day and name that day without a Bill existing. The public may think that a Bill will be taken on 26 April-they may not know what this Bill is, although I think they can guess-but there may not be a Bill, although it is still down there for a future day. It is only when the House is actually being asked to take a decision on it. The Standing Orders were changed some years ago to say that they must not be on the paper unless they actually exist as a Bill.

Q231 Sir Roger Gale: So we can have 15 Bills down for the Friday the House is proroguing, or whenever it is, when nothing is going to happen?

David Natzler: Some of them may not even be Bills.

Q232 Sir Roger Gale: They don’t exist?

David Natzler: That is right.

Kate Emms: Yes.

Q233 Sir Roger Gale: The public can be led to believe that this Bill exists, that there is a "hairy square ping-pong ball Bill" but it does not happen at all?

Kate Emms: Yes.

Sir Roger Gale: Because it is simply not there. That, in itself, is disingenuous.

Kate Emms: It also appears on the web pages-the titles and the First Reading.

Sir Roger Gale: I thought that was the case.

Chair: There are people waiting patiently. Can Thomas just briefly come in with his point?

Q234 Thomas Docherty: I remember there were some very polite but very firm phone calls being made to my office, by Mr Patrick and Miss Emms, about a week out from my two Fridays, saying, "We do now need to make some progress on locking this down." The issue is that you might be talking to the Government still, as I was, about the content of Bills, and that is why if you are some distance away, you will not have the Bill shaped.

Sir Roger Gale: Yes, but the point is that they are in the public domain on the Order Paper, and we now understand on the web. There is a title of a Bill that the public with a passionate interest in this particular subject may believe is happening and is potentially going to lead to legislation, but it doesn’t actually exist at all other than a title.

David Natzler: There would be no difficulty-and it is easier for me to say that-in something indicating on the future orders, and therefore also on the web, that the Bill was not as yet printed. We used to do that; we used to have a dagger, from memory.

Simon Patrick: It is on the public Bill list, which is not now printed, but is available once a week on the internet. There is a sign against any Bill that has not been printed. On the web for each Bill, there will either be a link to the text of the Bill or something that says, "This Bill is being prepared for publication". Of course, it may not actually be true, as the Bill may not be being prepared for publication. But on the Order Paper itself, there is no distinction in advance between the ones that are being printed and the ones that aren’t. We could mark those if you recommend that. As Kate says, by the day, there is a Standing Order-put in in 1994-that the Bill drops off the paper if it has not been printed by the previous day-by the Thursday. I think the previous practice was that the Speaker would not propose the Question on a Bill that had not been printed, so effectively it is removing things from the paper a day earlier than would otherwise be the case.

It has always been the case that all a Member has to get the House to agree to for First Reading is a short title and a long title. Sometimes, of course, you do have problems later on, when after discussion the Member discovers that what he actually wants to do is rather wider than the long title that they have brought in. Then you either have to modify the Bill, or you can withdraw the Bill and present it again with the right long title.

Q235 Sir Roger Gale: One final question. I want to see if there is any way of making Kate’s life-or that of whoever does Kate’s job-easier. At the moment, early-day motions lead the public to believe that something is happening when we all know that nothing happens. They are completely disingenuous. They are parliamentary graffiti. Many of us feel they are a total waste of time, but they mislead the public. To a very large extent, it seems to me that the private Members’ Bill process is in the same basket. Actually, the chances of success are minimal although, yes, there is a very limited-but it is very limited-number of Bills that will make progress and will get on to the statute book. So far as I am aware-please correct me if I am wrong-there is no easy-to-read publication to which Kate could point a member of the public to say, "Here is the batting order for public Bills in this session. Anything below this line doesn’t stand a prayer and anything below that line has not even been printed." Is there anything like that that actually exists?

Simon Patrick: Not in those terms. The Library does publish details of how many private Members’ Bills in each session receive Royal Assent. There is a clue there that the proportion, as you say, is quite small, although it varies quite a bit. However, just because a Bill is 25th on the list, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is not going to get anywhere. If nobody objects to it, it could get its Second Reading. It could go through all stages. It has not happened in this Session, but Bills do regularly go through all stages, if nobody objects at all, if the Government have looked at it and they are happy and so on-if it is a fairly small Bill or if the drafting was right or the Government have helped with it. You just cannot say, "These have no hope." What we could do is say that the ones that are marked as not yet being printed have no hope while they are in that condition.

David Natzler: I know that everyone wants to come in, but I think you are downplaying what these Bills may mean to some of the people who sponsor them: the Members who sponsor them and are committed to them, and who are-passionately, presumably-interested in the subject that they are putting forward. We have been trying to get rid of whatever the section was in the Mental Health Act that said that if you were detained for more than six months, you lost your seat, whereas when it was the same for physical illness, that was not the case. That was a Bill that was regularly presented and gradually it meant that everybody who was interested in that sort of area knew about it. They knew how little it took to change the law and now we or Parliament, as I understand it, have changed the law. These things do sometimes drip, drip, drip over a certain time. You spoke to RoSPA. I don’t know if it has Bills that it still wants to get through; I suspect it does.

Chair: We spoke to it last week and it was pretty cheesed off.

David Natzler: Okay; that is why I mentioned it.

Chair: Pretty furious.

David Natzler: But there are quite a lot of bits of civil society out there who have legislative changes they want to see, and they don’t mind having them every year appearing in the list. Eventually, they may get a friend in the top seven who will pick one up. So it isn’t just a one-shot thing, and it is a little different from EDMs in that respect, I suggest.

Chair: Just the head shaking that I was exhibiting is the fact that nine out of 10 are Government hand-out Bills and we cannot get away from that fact.

Q236 Jacob Rees-Mogg: I wonder if Sir Roger has really got to the nub of it, which is that the lack of transparency is not so much the fault of the Government, but the fault of the promoters of the Bill who go round saying, "I have this Bill that I am going to get through." Those Members of Parliament, and the lobby groups backing them, know perfectly well that their chances of getting a Bill through that is in any way contrary to Government policy are next to nothing.

Simon Patrick: Sometimes the Government change their policy. There may be a political will that means that what the Government have been saying may change. Of course, quite a lot of Members are committed to their Bill, rather than just having the debate sometimes, and are perhaps rather more optimistic than we might be about their chances. It seems a shame to say that in that case they shouldn’t be allowed to promote their Bill. If the description of the process is opaque, I think part of our job, in what we publish and the Library publishes about how private Members’ Bills work, should be to make that clearer, rather than saying that this is by itself a reason for changing the procedure. If Bills are failing because of something that could be avoided by changing the rules, rather than because the House just doesn’t want to pass them, that is another matter.

Q237 Jacob Rees-Mogg: Do you have a general feeling that Bills are broadly not passed because the House doesn’t want to pass them-because they don’t have the support of the Government and, therefore, don’t have the support of a majority of the House? Or do you think that lots of popular Bills are, in fact, stopped by a handful of-I cannot think of quite the right word-obdurate reactionaries?

David Natzler: I think that is a difficult one for us to judge. If you look at the list, are there lots of things you see there that you would like to see go into law, or are there things there that you think are worth a debate, but you are not really convinced that there is a case for actually changing the law? I suspect there may be more of the latter than the former. No doubt there are a few things that the majority of Members will think are no-brainers. They are often small changes that they can focus on and say, "Yes, this is something there is a majority for". I don’t know how you find out other than a vote. I look also at Lords’ private Members’ Bills. I don’t know if you are looking at those as well, but there is an element of oddity that those that come here take their place at the bottom of the queue. I am thinking particularly of the Steel Bill. I believe that that is big politics at the other end of the building, and we don’t notice it. It seems to come out at the bottom of our lists every time because it comes in quite late. Does that mean that the House here has a firm view on it? I don’t know. You see what I am saying? There is a variety. There are things about smoking in vehicles, where it may be that as gradually there are more debates about it, a view arises that was not there when the debates began.

Q238 Jacob Rees-Mogg: One final thing I was going to ask on understanding the process: do you think that most people actually know that a private Member’s Bill is a public Bill, and that therefore-

Kate Emms: No.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: No. In terms of trying to explain our procedures, so that we don’t get people writing in and saying, "We thought this was going to happen and it hasn’t," is not so difficult a task that it is not worth trying at all. However, the reality is that people are not going to know which private Member’s Bill is down on the Order Paper to advance an argument and which is down as a hand-out Bill. Inherently, legislation is complex and is only going to be understood by those who are willing to devote quite a lot of time to understanding how it works. You know I find these matters very interesting, and from my own experience, it has been a complete revelation, being elected, to understand the internal workings of what happens, against what I thought I knew as a well-informed-I hope well-informed-member of the public from the outside. That is just the nature of how Parliament and legislation is going to work.

David Natzler: I am sure Kate’s answer is right. People don’t understand what a private Member’s Bill is. It might help if we call it a Back-Bencher’s Bill. The concept of a private Member, particularly the use of the word "private", immediately causes confusion because of private Bills, which as some people know is something completely different.

Kate Emms: Indeed. I give quite a lot of talks and presentations on private Members’ Bills because people are interested in them. The thing I say about them is that the "private" attaches to the Member, not to the Bill, and then that is absolutely clearly understood. It is not a helpful name.

David Natzler: You have lost Mr Docherty.

Thomas Docherty: I am afraid so. The "private" attaches to-

Kate Emms: The word "private" attaches to the Member. It is a private Member.

David Natzler: It is the Bill of a private Member.

Kate Emms: As opposed to a private Bill, which is a completely different animal.

Q239 John Hemming: The essence of this whole discussion is a constitutional question as to the balance between the Executive and the legislature. What has become very obvious is that Parliament does not write legislation, but assents to it, and all the procedures we have operate to do that. One of the things that is clear from the procedures with private Members’ Bills is that they enable the Government to stop something going ahead without having to bother to do the work to work out whether they agree with it or not-without doing the consultation work or anything. Do you think that balance in the constitution should be shifted more towards the legislature?

David Natzler: The private Member’s Bill procedure, as we now have it, enables the Government, with a bit of determination, to see off a Bill at Second Reading. We agree about that. Whether they do so without doing proper research as to its effects-you are alleging, I think, that they do it captiously or with indifference to the contents-or whether they simply do it without having to bother to get a majority to vote, is a slightly different point. The second one, I think, is true. If they can talk a Bill out, or they can see it off because it doesn’t get a closure, yes, it enables them, without showing their hand or obliging their Back Benchers to vote against it, to defeat it at the moment. You say, "Is that a bad thing?" Well, I have to throw that back. I think that is for you. We can only advise on how different systems might produce different outcomes.

Q240 John Hemming: My question was whether you feel that the balance in the constitution should shift, but that may be something you don’t want to answer. If we made it easier for the majority of the House to change the legislation, the balance in the constitution would shift towards the legislature.

David Natzler: Yes, it would, if there were more ways in which what you believe to be a concealed majority was enabled to show itself, owing to more votes, and if you think those votes will show that the Government has often got it wrong. In other words, when Ministers oppose Bills, one assumes they inherently think that they are speaking for the majority of Members, because they support the Government. But if they have it wrong, and actually there is a majority of Members who would like a Bill to get a Second Reading, at the moment that majority is concealed and there are procedures you can imagine that would reveal whether that was true or not, yes.

Q241 John Hemming: Things like using deferred Divisions or the like?

Simon Patrick: Yes, that would, for example, mean that there could be a vote in the middle of the week on something, whereas if you had the Second Reading on a Friday, unless a lot of things change, most Members will not be there. So either a vote might be unrepresentative, or you are left with the current arrangement that it doesn’t go through unless there is no objection, if it is a later Bill on the list.

Q242 John Hemming: Can I ask Kate one little technical question on something slightly different? There is some money available for the drafting of Bills. Does anyone ever avail themselves of that money?

Kate Emms: They haven’t. I think it is for the top 10 ballot Bills.

Simon Patrick: Yes, 10.

Kate Emms: With the first 10 drawn in the ballot, Members are able to claim money. I think it is £200 each. In this Session, nobody has claimed it.

Q243 John Hemming: Do you know of anyone claiming it in recent years?

Kate Emms: I don’t, but that doesn’t mean it has not happened.

Q244 John Hemming: Obviously, a few hundred years ago, £200 would have been quite a bit of money. Do you know when it was last increased?

Kate Emms: I don’t know.

Simon Patrick: It has not been increased at all. It was introduced in 1971. I am quoting from the fourth report of your predecessor Committee-I have lost it now-in 2002-03.

Q245 John Hemming: It is a curious thing, given the hand-out Bills are drafted by the Government. I did not avail myself-

Simon Patrick: In this Session, the percentage of the Bills at the top of the ballot list that were hand-out Bills has perhaps been rather higher than it has in some previous ones, but you would not get very much drafting for £200. The previous Committee, in 2002-03, did recommend that the grant should be updated and become index linked. At that time, the Hansard Society said it should have been about £1,700, if it had been updated between 1971 and 2002-03. I don’t think that the problem with private Members’ Bills is they are not sufficiently well drafted. The Government take it upon themselves to control the quality of the statute book, in effect. They have Parliamentary Counsel, who are the best people at drafting this sort of thing. What we aim to do is to produce a Bill that makes it quite clear what Parliament is being asked to do-what the House is being asked to do-on Second Reading. If the Bill gets a Second Reading, the Government will pile in with the draftsmen and improve the drafting, and possibly also change the policy, in Committee. I don’t think the average private Member’s Bill is objected to by the Government, or fails to pass, because of the drafting.

David Natzler: As you know, if the Government are willing to accept a Bill in principle, the Public Bill Committee is used as the site for this massive rewriting exercise when all the clauses are left out and-remarkably to outsiders-sometimes similar clauses are put back in, but with language that is appropriate to the draftsman.

Chair: I am going to risk the wrath of Mr Nuttall, because I know Nic has to go in a minute. Would you mind, David?

Mr Nuttall: Yes, crack on.

Q246 Nic Dakin: Thanks, David.

Some people have suggested to us that programming the Bills would be helpful. What are your views on that, and what are the advantages or disadvantages of it?

David Natzler: We need to be clear what we mean by "programming". Programming at present is used only for Government Bills, and it covers the out date from the Committee and usually provides time for Report and Third Reading. It doesn’t provide a fixed time for Second Reading, partly because it doesn’t have to, because there is an understood time for Second Reading for a Government Bill, which is a day, so we don’t have Bills talked out at 10 o’clock when they are down for Second Reading. You may wonder why not, but the usual channels arrange it, and the Chair is conscious that the House expects to spend a day on Second Reading and then to come to a decision. Programme motions also are moved only by Ministers and are put forthwith. That is because it is assumed that Ministers speak for, and have behind them, a majority of the House. I know that that might not always be the case and, of course, there has been one case this Session, which we had never seen before, when a programme motion was not moved because it was apparent that there was not a majority behind it.

To replicate that for private Members’ Bills takes a bit of a leap forward. You would have to move the programme at some point-in other words as a motion on the Floor of the House. I think you might think that having a Question puttable forthwith in the name of the Member in charge might be inviting a rather harsh regime. You might think it might be at least debatable, so allow 45 minutes, which is the case for some programme amendment motions under certain conditions, but presumably not the full three hours that an allocation of time motion is allowed. The first question is: would it be debatable? Who would move it and when would they move it?

The other question is slightly: what’s the point? If there was a problem with Bills getting caught up in PBCs-since the war there was, in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, thus the guillotines-you might think a programme was a good way to establish an out date, and then tell the Public Bill Committee to use its discipline and get the Bill out. But I don’t detect that that has been a problem with private Members’ Bills since at least the late 1970s, when we did have one Bill that was stuck in a Committee, but that has not been the case for 35 years.

The time for Report and Third Reading I imagine you will be considering anyway. If you established a standard for every Bill, it would be simpler to establish it as a standard for every Bill, and not to have to put it in a motion each time you come to Second Reading. If you think three hours is enough for Report and Third Reading of a Bill, you just say so for every Bill. You don’t ask the House to agree it afresh every time it comes to a private Member’s Bill. So that is a rather long way-for which I apologise-of saying I could not quite see the benefit.

Q247 Nic Dakin: But there may be mileage in having a standard.

David Natzler: I imagine that is something you are considering. There is a standard for Second Reading. It is not in Standing Orders for a Government Bill, but there is actually a standard for each programme for a Government Bill on Report and Third Reading, which is a standard day-a day minus an hour for Report, and then an hour for Third Reading. That has become the standard, even though there may sometimes be two days or whatever. Of course, neither of those is in Standing Orders, and those have to be reimposed each time in a programme motion.

Q248 Nic Dakin: The other thing that has come through quite strongly in the evidence we have had is that some people are quite attracted to the idea of moving private Members’ Bills to a different part of the week when perhaps that sort of time allocation might be more easily manageable.

David Natzler: We have been around this course, so I have been round this course with this Committee. You know our views and concerns about which evening it would be, if it were an evening. I would only add-and then maybe ask Simon and Kate to comment on any technical issues about how long is an appropriate time or how often-that the early Thursday 9.30 am start in the Chamber, which is since we last spoke, has made a late Wednesday even more difficult to deal with. We have had a couple of pretty late Wednesdays recently.

Thomas Docherty: We have one on at the moment.

David Natzler: No, I don’t think so; I think you will find we will be in bed by nine! Let us see.

That has made life difficult, and with some of our staff-we are in danger of the European working time4-we are not giving them the necessary break between getting up on a Wednesday night, when, as I have explained, they are often there for some hours after the House has risen, and then they have to be there a little before the House starts. Wednesday night has become a marginally worse prospect than it was before, as a result of bringing forward that extra hour. Also, you are conscious of the arguments about how that might change the nature of business, but then I think you are probably doing that anyway.

Chair: David, and then I know Thomas wants to come in. I am being very mean, but David has waited patiently.

Q249 Mr Nuttall: Mr Chairman, fortuitously the second point raised by Mr Dakin was to be my first point, so I am grateful for that. I will not pursue that further, unless any of the witnesses feel that there would be any other consequences of moving it to a Tuesday.

Simon Patrick: One thing that would happen is that if you were thinking of using the time, in effect, between 7 o’clock and 10 o’clock, basically that is three hours rather than the five hours that you have on a Friday at the moment. If you were going to keep the same amount of private Members’ time-which has been mentioned before-you would need rather more sittings. You would also have to decide whether three hours was enough for either an automatic closure, or for the Chair to allow a closure on the Second Reading of a private Member’s Bill. At the moment-

Q250 Mr Nuttall: I was going to explore this because I think one of you mentioned previously that-this is not in Standing Orders, but by convention-Government Bills typically have a whole day, which is potentially six hours or more. Is that right?

David Natzler: Yes, five to six hours would be regarded as a day, wouldn’t it? Yes.

Q251 Mr Nuttall: I am not suggesting in any way that I would be in favour of this, but if it was to be moved to a Tuesday evening, say, if it is being suggested that a Bill would have its entire Second Reading on one evening, it would have only half the time approximately as a Government Bill. I wonder if you felt that-

Simon Patrick: I would not write that off as a suggestion because if you had in front of you an average Government Bill and an average private Member’s Bill, one thing you can immediately spot from quite a long distance away is that private Members’ Bills are very much shorter. We had very few this Session that ran to more than about six pages. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are not going to be controversial, but normally it does mean that they are fairly straightforward, and you might take the view that the House would not necessarily need quite as long to reach a decision on them. The same might be true of some rather minor Government Bills that still have to be put down by convention for a full day. If you were to then say in the Standing Orders that a Bill has its three hours on a Tuesday or Wednesday, and then an automatic vote on Second Reading, or say that you expect the Speaker to grant a closure if it has been going for three hours, that might be fine for most private Members’ Bills, but it might encourage private Members to draft Bills-or for Government to draft Bills for private Members-that were very much more complicated and would take longer than three hours. In that case, you might have to decide, if there is going to be an exception made for particular Bills, who makes the decision about it.

David Natzler: Can I just say that I would warn you against the law of unintended consequences? If you make private Members’ Bills too easy to get through-

Chair: We certainly don’t want to do that.

David Natzler: Good. But I am thinking that sometimes even the most benevolent Government may think that it is not just hand-outs, but that if they can get a Bill through in three hours at Second Reading guaranteed, whip through Committee and then get a guaranteed slab on Report, there may not be so many Government Bills and there may be more hand-outs.

Q252 Chair: I recall at the start I said it is not our intention to see more Bills get on the statute. It might be nice to see fewer hand-out Bills get on the statute, but not more private Members’ Bills, so we are alive to that.

Kate Emms: Could I just echo Simon’s point? The fact that private Members’ Bills are short doesn’t mean that they are not potentially controversial. A three-hour limit on any Bill strikes me as-

David Natzler: I think a Bill to change the abortion time limit would be one clause.

Kate Emms: Yes.

David Natzler: Or one sentence, practically.

Q253 Thomas Docherty: To follow on from Mr Nuttall’s point about time, with a number of Government Bills, even if you take a Monday, you might have had a couple of statements and a UQ, so actually while it nominally might have been six hours, the reality is it might have dropped to four hours or four and a half, if it started-

David Natzler: I said five to six. You are right. We can work out the average. I suspect it is nearer five than six, and probably between four and a half and five, yes.

Q254 Thomas Docherty: As the Clerk Assistant, with your oversight, are there benefits if, in effect, the staff were able to get back those 13 Fridays? I take your point about losing an evening or having to come in early on the following morning, but the bonus would be that the House would not sit on 13 Fridays. Have you considered the value of that at all?

David Natzler: I do not want this to weigh too much with the Committee. We will do what we have always said: we will do whatever the House decides. Many staff will still have to come in on Friday anyway. It is not the total quantum of hours worked; it is the absence of a gap between the late rising on one night and the early start on another, which, as I say, not just by habit, but by statute, we are worried about. We will obviously adapt if necessary, but, to be quite honest, not sitting on Fridays is not of particular benefit to staff. But then, that is no reason either to go one way or another.

Q255 Thomas Docherty: On a different issue, what are the technical issues that would have to be resolved to allow the Opposition to bring in legislation, either using an Opposition day or another mechanism? For example, what Standing Orders would need to be changed?

David Natzler: No Standing Orders. For an order of the day to be permitted on Opposition day, it would require no more than a resolution of the House to the effect that that was acceptable. As you know, because we have had this discussion with the Opposition over the last 20 to 25 years, we have always said that is is pretty plain that that was not what was intended when Supply days morphed into Opposition days, and that therefore there is sort of a dotted line below whether something was an order of the day or not. We have had secondary legislation on Opposition days-that is to say prayers-but as yet not orders of the day, or in other words stages of Bills. Off the top of my head, I don’t think it requires a change to Standing Orders. A plain resolution or a direction to the Speaker that that was all right, and that it is what the House wanted, would be sufficient. We would then have to adapt all sorts of things. You would have to work out how the Committee stage might work and so on.

Just to be clear, the Opposition at the moment can of course present Bills, and they have in the past presented Bills. That is to say that the Leader of the Opposition has presented a Bill supported by his 11 principal supporters, certainly under the previous Administration and the one previous to that, as a means of giving space to a programme of some sort. There is no difficulty with that, but obviously they don’t get a Second Reading.

Q256 Mr Nuttall: In the normal way as with a normal presentation Bill?

David Natzler: They are, in that sense, private Members.

Mr Nuttall: Using the same procedure, yes.

Q257 Jacob Rees-Mogg: As I understand it, if we sat for an extra three hours on a Wednesday and did not finish until 10.30 pm or just after, the Speaker could not take the chair at 9.30 the following morning because he would not have had his statutory 11 hours’ rest under the European working time directive.

Chair: He is in a position of management, you see. It doesn’t apply if you are in a position of management.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: He is required by the House to be there. I completely accept your point that-

Simon Patrick: He does have three deputies, of course, and so he might not be there at the end of the sitting.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: He might send one of them, yes.

Q258 Chair: Just going back to hand-out Bills, in reality, because the Government are being so effective at using the system to get its legislation on the statute, they do not have much of an incentive to tolerate what I would call genuine private Members’ legislation because, in essence, it legislation is competing with their own legislation for time. In a sense, the Government are a bit like a cuckoo in the private Members’ legislation nest, turfing everything else out to make sure its progeny and offspring have the greatest chance of getting through.

Simon Patrick: It will not necessarily succeed, because it is the luck of the draw as to how many Members are favourable to receive them.

Q259 Chair: Mr Patrick, please, you know how it works, although I know you are not allowed to let me know you know how it works. You know that Government Back Benchers who draw high in the ballot are put under excruciating amounts of pressure by the Whips Office to take a Government hand-out Bill through. That is just fact. You hear and see and know nothing of that.

Simon Patrick: I indeed hear what you say, Mr Chairman.

Chair: That absolutely happens. It absolutely happens.

Simon Patrick: But there will normally be among those 20, and possibly among the first seven, several Opposition Members who theoretically could take a hand-out Bill if they wanted to, but would be under less pressure to do so. So the Government cannot throw all the eggs out of the nest.

Q260 Chair: Of course they can, because they have, in the top 20, eight, nine or 10 Conservative Members, eight of whom are taking Government hand-out Bills through. If Thomas Docherty is No. 13, they don’t really give a damn about Thomas Docherty’s bit of legislation. It might be the most brilliant bit of legislation but, quite frankly, they do not have the time or the energy to take much of an interest in it because their sole purpose as the Government is to promote their own legislation through those Members who are taking it through on its behalf.

David Natzler: Can I say I think that what you are describing is political behaviour, not procedure, so it is difficult for us to comment much? But it is a little-

Q261 Chair: The opaqueness of the system allows it to happen. That is the observation I am making.

David Natzler: Yes, and obviously some questions put to the Prime Minister in the Chamber on Wednesdays will have been previously warned to him, and he will be briefed to answer them. I am not sure what that says about the system as a whole, but I am saying that how to change personal behaviour or political behaviour by Members is not our-

Q262 Chair: Of course that happens. I would observe I think that private Members’ legislation is something that is being mis-sold at the moment, and I think manipulating that is probably a little bit more serious than having a planted question at PMQs, which is here today and forgotten 30 seconds later.

David Natzler: But I am saying it is behavioural and not procedural. That was my point. Am I allowed one or two-

Chair: You are allowed to do whatever you like.

David Natzler: Thank you, Chair. I hope that your Committee is going to be kind enough to deal with the business about sitting in private.

Q263 Chair: We are getting to that, but I have a question to ask you. What about putting limitations on speeches at Second Reading-time-limited speeches?

David Natzler: The normal purpose of time limits, which is a power that the House gave to the Chair with some trepidation some years ago, and which the Chair uses very cautiously, is to ensure that nearly everybody who wants to speak is able to within an understood fixed time. It is not there to bring something to a decision sooner than the House has already indicated. I think it is fairer to the Chair that this Committee encourages the House to say, "Here is an understood slot." On Second Reading of a Government Bill, time limits are often imposed. Why? Because it is understood that it is going to end at 10.00, that we need 20 minutes for the two wind-ups, and therefore once the two Front Benchers have gone, you divide the remaining amount by 26-or whatever-and you get a seven-minute time limit. I think everyone accepts that. There is no equivalent understanding or clear understanding on Second Reading of private Members’ Bills. That is one thing.

The second thing is if only two people put in to speak, are we to suggest that they each have 10 minutes in advance? That is a problem. If you have a four-hour slot, do you allow the person to speak on the basis that you know you are going to run into a closure, or do you use the weapon of speech limits-which is a bit of an iron glove because it applies to everybody-to try to bring the thing to a decision, and perhaps rather earlier than you think it should have to be brought to a decision? That is my caution: it is better to define the slot and then rely on the experience of the Chair, as they are able to do, to organise the debate.

Q264 Chair: Where perhaps we would find agreement is there if there is a private Member’s Bill going through on abortion, let us say, where there is a huge amount of interest, and 35 people put in to speak, and the time is allocated accordingly to try to allow as many of those 35 to speak. But, on a less contentious private Member’s Bill, if 10 people put in to speak over four hours, the limit might be 20 minutes. Would that be where we would find common ground?

David Natzler: It is already within-

Chair: Within the Chair’s gift.

David Natzler: Exactly. It is already within the Chair’s gift to do that. However, the Chair needs to be quite confident that the Chair is not artificially bringing the debate to an end. That is the Chair’s concern if there isn’t an understood slot. Perhaps I am not expressing it well. The closure is the means by which it is brought to an end, but if there were an understood slot, and if this Committee were to say that that is how it thought the Chair should operate and the House were to agree, that would make it easier for the Chair to do it.

Q265 Jacob Rees-Mogg: May I clarify something? Currently, on a Second Reading, the Speaker cannot effectively impose any time limit, even if every Member of the House has indicated a wish to speak, because the end of the Friday is not the point at which there will be a vote on Second Reading-it will simply be carried over until the next available slot. That is unlike a Government Bill on Second Reading, which finishes at 10 o’clock and therefore the time-

David Natzler: Just to be clear, a Government Bill doesn’t automatically finish at 10.00.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: But by convention.

David Natzler: Just so, and it is an interesting argument.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: There is not that convention.

David Natzler: There is not that strong convention that means the Chair would feel free to get into the business of organising the debate, as opposed simply to trying to provide an equitable opportunity to Members.

Q266 Jacob Rees-Mogg: Therefore we have to follow your guidance of defining the slot, which is effectively the same thing, or saying that there will be a vote at 2.30?

David Natzler: Which is the same thing.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Which is the same thing.

Q267 Thomas Docherty: To clarify, the Chair does not have to make you sit down at the end of the five minutes, say. It has been known that a Chair might allow you to finish or go on. Am I right?

Simon Patrick: The power is discretionary, although I think if the Chair felt that there was more time than was originally thought, they would normally announce that and either increase the limit or abandon it altogether, rather than just ignore it when the time finished.

David Natzler: You are quite right. It says "may". The problem is this, isn’t it? If you just have six Members who have had eight minutes each, and then you rise and after eight minutes he says, "No, no, we would like to hear more from Mr Docherty"-

Thomas Docherty: If it was Mr Nuttall and Mr Rees-Mogg, he would have to.

David Natzler: Then I think that would be seen as a non-equitable use of the power, and the Chair is determined to use that power equitably. Of course, he can suddenly raise the limit or lower the limit, or actually remove the limit, but it is then better perhaps not to impose it in the first place but to let debate flow. Often in Westminster Hall, although we now have the power to impose a limit, many Chairs will choose not to, and I think prefer to operate by saying, "Look, you can do the maths. Just be courteous to one another and do eight minutes each."

Chair: But that is not going to happen if he is in full cry. You are not going to appeal to his better instincts on that basis. Occasionally, you might be able to, but not in the main.

Q268 Mr Gray: You mentioned "I spy strangers". The presumption would be that there is now no purpose in having the motion, "That this House do sit in private." I am just jumping to the conclusion that that is what you are going to say.

David Natzler: I was going to jump in. I am sorry, go on.

Q269 Mr Gray: Might there not be an occasion-for example in time of war and other great matters of state-when it would be right to have the motion, "That this House do sit in private"?

David Natzler: Yes. I don’t think anyone is saying that we don’t want to have the power to sit in private. Short of war, I can recall a debate when the House should have sat in private on whether we should put up the screen in the Chamber. Halfway through, people were beginning to say, "We are not able to discuss things we have heard from the security services," and so on. In retrospect, it might have been better to have had the debate in private, although in the modern world it is obviously an awkward argument to make. But it was about what was the nature of the precise threat that the screen was against.

The problem with "sit in private" is that the Speaker has no option but to put the Question, and all you have to do is change the Standing Orders saying, "Leave it to the Speaker’s judgment as to whether this is a state of war or of national security-whether it is a serious proposition that we should sit in private". If the Speaker has that power, the thing goes away, and at the beginning of a Friday, he would not accept the Question any more than he will for-

Q270 Mr Gray: Surely the counter-argument to that would be that if, indeed, the Member doesn’t even have 40 people present to support his Bill, surely it is reasonable to discover that by this mechanism, and therefore-

David Natzler: As a Committee, if you think with private Members’ Bills or at any other time-because it is not just on Fridays-that you wish to have a means of counting the House, as it used to be called, for establishing whether what is left of the idea of a quorum is there, I think it is better you should do it by a Standing Order that is quite overtly about a quorum. Then you have that, and you must work out a "quorum call" Standing Order. But it does seem absurd to use this. We are talking about transparency. This quite different weapon has been discovered and is fired at the beginning of every Friday to stop anyone else firing it, but that was not the purpose for which it is there in the first place and nobody wants to sit in private anyway. If you are talking about transparency, it is a bad way to start a private Members’ Friday.

Q271 Mr Gray: You could change that Standing Order to allow the Speaker discretion, or have a separate quorum Standing Order or something like that.

David Natzler: If you want a "quorum call" Standing Order. Many assemblies have them, and whether you want to establish are there 40 people there is a controversial issue.

Q272 Thomas Docherty: Am I right in saying that the problem with the argument of the quorum call is that it affects the first Bill in the process?

Simon Patrick: No, it doesn’t affect any of them.

Thomas Docherty: But when you move on to the next item of business-

David Natzler: Yes, it is a weapon you can fire against the first item once it has started, or the second item. At the moment, once it has been negatived, it cannot be fired again. It is like an anti-tank weapon: you fire it once and that is it, and then you throw the tube away. If you couldn’t fire it in the first place, there would be no problem. But if you want to sit in private, you can then move to sit in private and the Speaker cannot take-

Q273 Thomas Docherty: My point about establishing that there is a quorum is that you have established that there isn’t a quorum on Bill No. 1. That quorum probably has not changed on Bill No. 2, but you cannot touch it now because it will then become the Bill.

David Natzler: That depends on your "quorum call" Standing Order. You must write a "quorum call" Standing Order, because there isn’t one. That is what I am saying.

Thomas Docherty: I see.

David Natzler: Indeed, you would have to say: could you do it more than once? How often can you call a quorum? How many Members can do a quorum call? At Strasbourg where we attend, from memory there is a quorum call where you have to have 10 Members present in the Chamber to call for a quorum.

Q274 Mr Gray: The Speaker would not allow unreasonable quorum calls.

David Natzler: Which in some Parliaments becomes an absolute menace and they get rid of it, because it is just a pointless and irritant device to delay things. I am not saying it is easy to write a "quorum call" Standing Order, but if you want there to be one, I would suggest it should be one on the face of it and not a by-product of something else-that is all.

Q275 Martin Vickers: Turning to Report stage, which the report we have talks of as being the most frustrating part in many ways for promoters of Bills, you talk about taking Report in Westminster Hall.

David Natzler: I think the Hansard Society came up with a rather complicated idea of taking it somewhere off the Floor. It is not us.

Q276 Martin Vickers: Yes, they did; no, it is not you. Nevertheless, I can still ask you for your thoughts on that.

David Natzler: Of course you can, Mr Vickers. I think we are a bit sceptical. I am not quite clear what evil it is intended to avoid. There is sometimes a belief that, through these sorts of mechanisms, conflict or opposition can be averted or somehow modified. If you cannot vote, there doesn’t seem to be much point-that is the end of the day. This isn’t, on legislation, a talking shop. If you have a Report stage, why would you not want it on the Floor of the House? There is a Standing Order that allows you, in the case of Bills that have been to a Second Reading Committee-or, from memory, the Scottish Grand for Second Reading-to be referred to a Report Committee. It is a rather academic Standing Order; it has been used once. The whole point about Report is that every Member can not only join in the debate, but all Members can join in a vote. If you separate those two things, we are sceptical as to what you are solving. No doubt there are other solutions to the current irritations around Report on-

Q277 Chair: What are the solutions, do you think?

David Natzler: Well, time is of the essence, if you have a limited time for Report and you can then rely on mechanisms to bring matters to conclusion-and also for Third Reading-as you do for a Government Bill. We are aware that Report is often deeply frustrating on Government Bills, but at least you know you are going to get an outcome-the Bill is going to carry on through, and you also get a chance to vote. That is the only solution. I am looking to Simon or Kate. It is about time, isn’t it?

Q278 Chair: So you would import the mechanisms used to bring Government Bills through?

David Natzler: I am saying you could.

Q279 Chair: You are not saying; you are saying it could happen?

David Natzler: Yes, if it is felt that a five-hour day should be enough for the House to consider a Bill on Report thoroughly, you might have a mechanism that said you will not only do that, but you will be guaranteed votes and we will move on to the next stage. If you don’t like it, you will have the traditional way of dealing with things, which is voting.

Chair: Martin, have you finished, or do you want to come in?

Q280 Martin Vickers: I was just reading through a bit more of what the Hansard Society is saying. Of course, it has been quite radical in many ways, because it is talking about a possibility of a Report Committee whereby any Member would be able to go and vote. I take the point-

David Natzler: Not vote, if you read the response; talk.

Q281 Martin Vickers: No, they could propose amendments, but only members of that Committee could vote. Nevertheless, it would allow every Member to take part in that stage of proceedings, although I take the point that the voting ultimately is the most important. Is it beyond the wit of man even to allow a vote in that way?

David Natzler: It is very difficult to imagine votes if it is happening at the same time as the Chamber is sitting, in which all Members can take part, which is why we don’t have votes in Westminster Hall now. It is, frankly, inconceivable. Although we have a parallel Chamber, voting has always been said to be a no-no for that reason. There are 600-and-something Members, and it is not easy to vote anyway. I am not saying it is a dead end; I think it is a bit of an academic solution, to be candid.

Chair: I might be in agreement with you, Mr Natzler, on that.

David Natzler: Is that the first time!

Q282 Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am glad to say I am in much more widespread agreement. The only concern about timetabling Report is on the Bills that have gone through Committee with very little detailed consideration. Although Government Bills may have only a day on Report, they have usually been pretty thoroughly scrutinised by the Opposition in Committee. I have only been allowed on one Bill Committee, and the Opposition were very thorough and diligent.

Chair: What Committee were you on?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Last year’s Finance Bill Committee.

Therefore-and this is about the Chairman’s earlier point-we cannot make it too easy for people to get legislation through or make them feel that they have a right to get legislation through. They need to command the majority of the House and the legislation needs to be scrutinised thoroughly at at least one stage. If something is just nodded through in Committee, and one Committee stage this year lasted less than 20 minutes-

David Natzler: Presumption of Death was 16 minutes.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: It is not entirely satisfactory, so you need a Report stage that allows the House to consider things thoroughly.

Simon Patrick: I think it is quite difficult to distinguish between the House doing that and a Bill that has quite widespread support but about which certainly the Member in charge might then say that a few Members who don’t support it are able to table enough amendments to kill it on Report. We have not had that much of that sort of thing happening recently, but it did used to happen quite a bit. If Bills got through Second Reading, possibly because there were more Members around on a Friday and they had a vote on it, if the Bill was going to be killed off, Report would be when you did it, because you could table lots of amendments, get quite a few groups and need closure on each of those groups, and then you would hit the buffers.

The danger is that you arrange time to make sure that the House can give careful support to the merits of the Bill and to possible amendments to it. What it actually gets used for is people to see if they can talk for long enough to kill the Bill. If you stop that happening, by basically programming Report for a certain length of time, are you then allowing more or less anything to get through the House? How are you going to stop it? I suppose, if the Government oppose the Bill, they will probably muster their troops if necessary on a Friday, which would be very unpopular. There is always the difficulty that if you make it too easy, Bills might get through that there is a majority against.

David Natzler: I think the Chairman has said Third Reading, and Third Reading is-

Q283 Chair: Can we not have Third Reading on a week night, so if the Government want to kill it, they can nail it on a Third Reading? We don’t have to stick around for hours; they can just do it on Third Reading on a Wednesday or a Tuesday night. We would have Third Reading of a private Member’s Bill separate from Report, and that would be when the Government could kill it. It would be open and transparent and a vote would take place.

David Natzler: That is an idea. We entirely agree, I think, with all of you. That is a very difficult choice for you. You must not make it too easy. There is a slight sense of unease. Effectively what Mr Dakin was saying: it is effectively programming a Bill once you are saying that Report and Third Reading will be over in a parliamentary day. But I think Third Reading is perhaps the underestimated bit in all this. From memory, there hasn’t been a Bill defeated on Third Reading since 1977, from memory, which was an Opposition ambush by Teddy Taylor. People have rather disregarded it.

Q284 Chair: Mr Natzler, here is the thing. If the Government are determined on a Friday, they can kill it off on Report, but say they just cannot muster the troops on Report and it gets through, you are right that there is a concern that some pretty substandard legislation might get on the statute. But if you were to separate Third Reading from Report and have that on a week night, there would still be another chance for a full vote in the House of Commons whereby it could be put to the sword.

Mr Gray: Or by deferred Division.

Chair: Or by deferred Division. The difference from the current system is that the Government would have to get their hands covered in blood to do it. They could not rely on a few Friday afternoon experts to do their dirty work for them. They would have to dip their hands in the blood, and, as a Member of Parliament, I would have to be accountable for how I cast my vote. If I cast it against, my constituents could see that.

Simon Patrick: There is just one thing I would say on that, which is that if a Bill is not going to get through, for the purpose of cutting down the amount of work by us and by Members, the earlier the House pronounces itself against the principle of the Bill the better. If people have done a lot of work in Committee and on Report and then the Bill is defeated on Third Reading, in a sense you are putting quite a lot of people-

Q285 Chair: No, we are not having a lot of work in Committee. We have just identified the fact that there is hardly any work in Committee.

Simon Patrick: No, I think it is just something that obviously depends on the principle of the Bill and what the House thinks about it. Is it worth seeing if the Bill could be made better and more generally acceptable at the two amending stages or, if a Bill is going to be objected to eventually, shouldn’t you do that at Second Reading, rather than keeping us all around?

Q286 Chair: Very quickly, the reason I talk about the Government dipping their hands in the blood is that we had the chief executive of RoSPA here, who-13 or 14 months, or 10 months; whatever it was-after his Bill had crashed in flames, was convinced that it wasn’t the Government who stopped it, but evil Back Benchers. It is just extraordinary that the Government have maintained this fiction for the best part of a year that they had nothing to do with destroying this poor man’s Bill, when it was entirely the Government’s doing that the Bill was crushed.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: But it needed a little help.

Q287 Chair: It needed help. We have to cover off the 10-minute rule slot.

David Natzler: Could I say something about the 10-minute rule slot? Kate is the main victim of the 10-minute rule slot, and I know the Clerk suggested you might change the nature of the motion that is moved there. You could obviously just open it up to be anything. You can say, "Let’s break the link with any legislation at all and have a 10-minute resolution slot"-putting it crudely-"or just a 10-minute talk slot." If you wanted to keep it with some idea of it being about legislation, and still have the idea of leave being given, you might like to consider that leave is still sought, and given or not given to a Member, to bring in a Bill, but the Member then would not be invited to then present it, which is what happens. In other words, the Bill is read the First time and they are asked to name a day for Second Reading. They could still do that if they wanted to, but some of the misleading aspects that Kate has raised about members of the public misunderstanding arises from 60 or 70 10-minute rule Bills, many of which are not printed-I think it is fair to say-and hang about. The Member concerned has the leave of the House and that is the great thing. They don’t actually have to present the Bill. This would not stop them doing it, but I think it would cut down quite a lot on the number of Bills that Members don’t actually wish to progress. Some do, and they can, but they are forced to do so at the moment by being told to name a day for Second Reading and to bring it in with that ceremony and the walking. It is merely a thought, sorry.

Q288 Chair: I am just very excited to see that David likes one of your ideas. This is real progress.

David Natzler: Is this another first?

Q289 John Hemming: One other thought about the 10-minute rule slot is to use that as a threshold over which a private Member’s Bill has to get, in terms of the number of people voting or whatever, so that before going to Second Reading, it has actually had to get 100 people voting in support in a contested Division, potentially.

David Natzler: Do you mean every Bill?

John Hemming: Well, some sort of threshold. If you are going to say that we are going to move the balance of power between the Executive and the legislature in any way, there needs to be a threshold that you hit before something is considered to warrant that amount of effort. There is a mechanism for it.

David Natzler: I may have misunderstood. Most 10-minute rule motions are unexceptionable, which means when we look at them in the morning, we are saying, "Is anyone going to object to it?" You are not going to object partly because you are courteous to your colleagues. But you may think it is not the sharpest idea you have seen, or not something you would really want to see on the statute book, but that it is a perfectly reasonable proposition to advance and this is the Member’s chance to do it and that is great. So you are not going to vote against them. Not many people want to vote against most of the propositions that they see as 10-minute rule Bills, but in their heart of hearts do they really want to see them put into law? You are assuming lots of votes, and I am not sure that that is what people are really after.

Q290 John Hemming: I am suggesting it is a tool for measuring the will of the House on private Member’s Bills.

David Natzler: Only if somebody opposes it, Mr Hemming. If nobody opposes it, it is not a tool for measuring anything except their desire to move on to the next business, which is usually quite pressing at that time of day.

Kate Emms: The question is put on every single 10-minute rule motion.

John Hemming: I am aware of that. It is this question of how you quality control the process, and it is a mechanism for doing that.

Chair: Mr Docherty, you look perplexed.

Thomas Docherty: I think it is because there are lots of motherhood and apple pie 10-minute rule Bills. You would be fairly suicidal if you were to be speaking against that. We should be in favour of-

John Hemming: For instance, effectively, instead of a 10-minute rule motion on one of the private Members’ Bills, you could have a 10-minute debate about whether a programme motion is put down for Second Reading for a private Member’s Bill, which would, therefore, enable a vote to happen.

Q291 Thomas Docherty: Normally they come on the back of Opposition days or Government Bills, and there is, as you say, a genuine desire to get on to something possibly more substantive than some of the 10-minute rule Bills we have seen offered. Can I ask, on the issue of timings, am I right in thinking that the ballot takes place every Session on a certain fixed day after the Queen’s Speech?

Simon Patrick: The second Thursday approximately.

Q292 Thomas Docherty: Then those Members who are fortunate enough to come out in the ballot have until a certain date-

Kate Emms: The fifth Wednesday.

Q293 Thomas Docherty: The fifth Wednesday. Then there is the delightful staying overnight for presentation Bills.

Kate Emms: That can happen only after the ballot Bills have been presented.

Q294 Thomas Docherty: Then 10-minute rule Bills can only come after that?

Kate Emms: Exactly. Slots for 10-minute rule Bills and the ability to give notice to present a Bill have been after the fifth Wednesday.

Q295 Thomas Docherty: In a standard one-year Session, the earliest that a balloted Bill can be taken for Second Reading is therefore when?

Kate Emms: A ballot Bill?

Q296 Thomas Docherty: Yes, a Second Reading. If, let us say, John McDonnell tops the ballot again next year.

Kate Emms: In the last Session, the ballot Bills were presented on 20 June and the first sitting Friday was 6 July.

Q297 Thomas Docherty: Only a moment on this, I promise. If we were to move it on to, say, a Tuesday night or a Wednesday night and to do three-hour slots, when the current Government Chief Whip was Leader of the House, he estimated that you would need 22 Wednesday nights of three hours. Are there enough Wednesdays or Tuesdays or Thursdays remaining in a standard year to let you do those 22?

Kate Emms: The House sits for 35 to 37 weeks a year, so you would have 37.

Q298 Thomas Docherty: But you have already lost a number because you have lost May and June, because you have not had a chance.

David Natzler: You have lost about nine, haven’t you-nine or 10?

Kate Emms: Yes.

David Natzler: Off the top of our head, yes. But you are quite right, you don’t get 35 because you need the preparatory period. That is a very fair point, yes. That does limit it. Can I just add, I know you are looking into this idea of a second ballot or-

Q299 Chair: Yes, we are, splitting the ballots. For presentation Bills you might do something about presentation and actually have a second ballot after the first ballot.

David Natzler: If your mind is open that far, I wonder if I can insert a further wedge to think of even more than a second ballot. At the moment, the weakness is seen as being it is all or nothing early on, in terms of all the slots getting filled, first of all by the presentation Bills under the ballot and then by the presentation Bills under the overnight queue or whatever. That is a bad thing because if a legislative proposition comes up halfway through the year, you cannot get anywhere near the top of the queue. You are now saying, "Let’s, after say five months, have a second ballot for the remaining six Fridays," or it might now be 11 Wednesdays or whatever-for the second half of the private Members’ year. You could have even more ballots. You could have one for each of them in turn. It is just a thought. If you want to keep the thing open and keep people interested-obviously you have to have rules about who submits, and you only submit one Bill per person per something5-it doesn’t have to be just two ballots. You could have a first ballot to open up the first six or seven and then ballots every month for the next one month ahead. This is just a proposition if you are really opening up the system.

Q300 Thomas Docherty: Isn’t the problem that at the moment we have 13 Fridays, the first seven of which are the Second Readings of the ballot Bills, with the second six set aside for remaining stages of ballot Bills, and if they are not needed or exhausted, the presentation Bills and the 10-minute rule Bills notionally come from behind?

David Natzler: Yes.

Q301 Thomas Docherty: Isn’t there a practical problem that you said there could be a second ballot, but the reality is that the back half of the year could very well be needed for remaining stages of those-

David Natzler: Two things. I think the assumption on that process is that they would continue to have priority on those days: the later the stage the higher up the Order Paper. You could have a Report stage that would always jump anything that came in on one of the successive ballots, but you would never know if there is going to be one. Secondly, if you are moving to a rather larger number of evening sittings, it might be that that would open up some where you would leave some for Second Readings of later Bills, if you follow me. In other words, I am saying it is seven and six now. If you are doubling it, it would be 13 and 10, or something of that sort. Then with half those second ones, conceivably you would say there might be a priority given to Second Readings, or at least you would not need them all for later stages of Bills.

Q302 Chair: But the downside to this is we would not have the joy of seeing Mr Docherty with perhaps six Bills on the Order Paper for one afternoon on a Friday.

Kate Emms: Is that a particular pleasure?

David Natzler: This is where we now agree.

Chair: That would be a great tragedy.

Colleagues, are we content that we have covered this sufficiently to allow our witnesses to go? Mr Gray?

Mr Gray: Absolutely content.

Chair: Mr Rees-Mogg?

Jacob Rees-Mogg: Yes, very happy.

Chair: Jenny, you have been very quiet.

Jenny Chapman: I have been listening carefully.

Chair: Would you like to say anything?

Jenny Chapman: No, I think it has all been covered.

Chair: That is fantastic, because that is now on the record as well. Can I thank the three of you? That was extremely enlightening. Your good humour carried all before you. Journey well, and no doubt you will be thrilled and excited to see what we come up with.

David Natzler: Hugely anticipated.

Kate Emms: Yes. I hope it is very soon.


[1] Note by witness : The previous Government consulted on a draft Antarctic Bill in November 2009.

[2] Note by witness : the private Members’ bills would be reached only after all the Government business on the Remaining Orders had been dealt with.

[3] Note by witness : Public Bill Committee stage.

[4] Note by witness : We are in danger of breaching the European working time directive.

[5] Note by witness : one Bill per person per slot.

Prepared 16th April 2013