Skip to main content

Business of the House

Volume 508: debated on Tuesday 6 April 2010

I should like to make a business statement. Following the Prime Minister’s announcement earlier today, the business for this week will now be as follows:

Wednesday 7 April—Consideration of a business of the House motion to facilitate business to prorogation, followed by remaining stages of the Bribery Bill [Lords], followed by consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [Lords], followed by motion relating to the draft Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2010, followed by remaining stages of the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill, followed by all stages of the Appropriation Bill, followed by all stages of the Finance Bill, followed by consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Digital Economy Bill [Lords], followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments. The House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages which may be received.

Thursday 8 April—Remaining stages of the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Crime and Security Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Children, Schools and Families Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Energy Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Financial Services Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Flood and Water Management Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments. The House may also be asked to consider any Lords messages which may be received.

The House will not adjourn until Royal Assent has been received to all Acts. The House will be prorogued when Royal Assent to all Acts has been signified. Parliament will be dissolved on Monday 12 April by proclamation.

As the Prime Minister announced this morning, Her Majesty will summon the new Parliament to meet on Tuesday 18 May.

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her statement. May I say how delighted we are on these Benches that the Prime Minister has at last pushed the button and called the election? We relish the prospect over the next four weeks of taking our argument for lower taxes on jobs, less waste and reduced debt across the country.

On the forthcoming business, will she confirm that there will be Prime Minister’s Question Time as usual tomorrow, oral questions to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on Thursday and no interruption to the schedule for Adjournment and Westminster Hall debates? Does she accept that we will enter into constructive discussions with the Government about the Bills in the pipeline, balancing the need for scrutiny with the need to get certain legislation on the statute book without further delay?

For the benefit of the whole House, will she tell us how long the debate will be on tomorrow’s business motion? So that the House can pace itself, will she tell us how long she expects the House to spend on each of the Bills whose titles she has just read out?

Finally, as she has made no announcement about the draft Standing Order on the Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, will she now confirm that the Government have finally kicked into the long grass the proposals to set up a business committee? Will she confirm that it will fall to the next Government to introduce this important House of Commons reform?

I can confirm that there will be questions to the Prime Minister in the usual way and that there will be questions to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. We will table the programme motion this afternoon, so hon. Members will be able to consider it, and it will then be debated. Obviously, the length of the debate on the programme motion will be a matter for Mr. Speaker.

As far as the draft Standing Order is concerned, following the Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, we have agreed—the House has agreed—the election of Select Committee Chairs, the election of members of Select Committees and that Back-Bench Members should be able to—

I am just trying to explain to the House the progress we have made. Back-Bench Members will be able to table motions that can be voted on. The House has resolved to agree that there should be a Back-Bench committee for House business. We have drafted the Standing Orders that would give effect to that and they have been tabled. I think it is wrong for hon. Members who did not win the vote to table amendments that serve as an objection and I would therefore ask hon. Members who have tabled amendments to withdraw them so that we can approve the Standing Orders. They do no more and no less than give effect to the resolution that the House has already expressed of wanting to proceed with a business committee. I think hon. Members should withdraw their amendments, which serve as an objection, so that we can conclude the matter in this Parliament. If that is not the case, and Members persist with their amendments, we will at least have made progress on all the things I have listed. The House will have decided in principle to make progress but the Standing Order change, which we have already drafted, could be done as the first act of the next Parliament.

I apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) who, for obvious reasons, is in Somerton and Frome, from where, I am sure, he will be deservedly returned, as will my other right hon. and hon. Friends who are standing again.

May I ask the Leader of the House about the Digital Economy Bill? The proposal appears to be to take the Second Reading today and all the remaining stages tomorrow. Given that there are a number of highly controversial proposals in the Bill, especially that about web blocking, surely now that we are in the wash-up, the most appropriate thing for the Government and the Leader of the House to do at this stage is to say that the Government will not proceed with those controversial parts of the Bill. That will save us all a lot of time and trouble over the next two or three days.

I welcome the fact that the vulture fund Bill—the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill—and the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill are both on the list. That is very welcome. It seems to me to be extraordinary, however, that the proposals of the Wright Committee on a Back-Bench business committee, which the Leader of the House has herself put forward, are not on the list. She seems to be saying that those measures are not on the list simply because a few Members are opposing them, but there are, equally, a tiny number of reactionary Members opposing those two Bills. Surely those three measures are in the same position. It is in her gift to bring forward the Wright Committee proposals at this stage. On three separate occasions—three weeks in a row—she undertook to put those proposals to the House. Surely it is a breach of faith for her to refuse to do so now.

As far as the Digital Economy Bill is concerned, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there will be a full Second Reading debate today, so it will have a normal Second Reading debate. It has had considerable scrutiny already in the House of Lords: it had seven days in Committee, which is more than any other Bill in the programme, and three days on Report, whereas every other Bill in the programme had only one day. However, I know that Members want it to be scrutinised in this House too, and there will be a further chance for scrutiny at the time of making the regulations to give powers to the courts to block access to internet sites in relation to copyright infringement. As that element of the Bill has generated much debate, those regulations will be subject to a super-affirmative procedure, which will operate in the following way.

There will be a public consultation on the draft regulations prior to their being laid in Parliament and they will be laid in draft in the House with an explanation of why they satisfy the necessary thresholds required to make the regulations. Those thresholds are set out in the Bill. At the same time, the public consultation response will be published. Draft regulations will sit in the House for 60 days and, at the same time, Committees of both Houses will consider them. That is the critical part of the super-affirmative procedure. It allows Committees, including Members of this House, to consider the provisions even though there will not be Committee stage in the normal way. Final regulations that take into account the recommendations of the Committees will be laid in Parliament and will be subject to the normal affirmative procedure. Of course, the Bill will make progress in the wash-up only on the basis of consensus.

May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on including the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill in tomorrow’s business? That demonstrates not only the Government’s profound commitment to international development but the fact that they listen to the House of Commons. Has she received any indication that the Bill’s passage through the House of Lords will be facilitated so that it can receive Royal Assent before Dissolution?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his words about the vulture funds Bill, which has considerable support across the country. We expect and hope it to make good progress in the House of Lords. As I have said at successive business questions on Thursdays in the House, it was disappointing that Opposition Members blocked it. They needed only to drop their objections for it to go through, and now they have seen the light and dropped them, so we hope it will go through and become law.

The wash-up following the decision to dissolve Parliament is, by tradition and convention, always uncontentious and by agreement. Significant parts of the Digital Economy Bill are highly contentious and it is the view of many that it should not be debated at all following the announcement of Dissolution and that it could and should properly be left to a future Government, which could be done very swiftly indeed. Unless the right hon. and learned Lady is prepared to give a clear undertaking that the contentious parts of the Bill will be dropped, it will not go through. It is not good enough to say that it will be left to a statutory instrument in a future Parliament.

But I was trying to explain to hon. Members that there will not be just the normal affirmative procedure, which does not allow for a Committee and for amendments to come from a Committee. If one thinks about what a Committee stage does, one sees that it allows Members of the House to consider the Bill in detail and to make amendments to it. The super-affirmative process that I have announced to the House, which will apply in the case of these contentious measures, will provide scrutiny by Members of this House in a Committee stage that can then lead to amendments. Therefore, whatever the House does by agreement in the wash-up will not come into force until there has been a Committee stage, in effect, under the super-affirmative procedure. I think the hon. Gentleman had worked out his concerns and objections before hearing my explanation that we would deal with the matter in this different way. This is something that can be discussed further when the Secretary of State moves the Bill’s Second Reading later today.

The York-based company Jarvis made more than 1,000 track-renewal workers redundant last week. The skills of a work force are essential to the future of the railway. Network Rail is retendering the Jarvis work, and whoever wins it must re-employ the Jarvis workers. If my right hon. and learned Friend cannot find time for a debate on this important matter before Parliament is dissolved, will she at least ask the Secretary of State for Transport and the Minister for Yorkshire and the Humber—who I know has had many discussions about the matter—to meet me urgently to discuss these workers’ jobs?

I entirely take the point that my hon. Friend has made. He is absolutely a champion for people employed in his constituency, and he is understandably very concerned about the Jarvis employees who have been made redundant. I will ask the Secretary of State for Transport and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills to meet him so that he can discuss how to reassure his constituents and lay their concerns to rest.

The right hon. and learned Lady may recall that, at the last business questions, I made an intervention about the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill, which I was promoting. In response, she said—accurately perhaps, but slightly sharply for her—that I was “earnest” but “not relevant”. She has included the Bill in the wash-up, so may I thank her most warmly on behalf of all those, both in the House and outside, who have promoted it? I ask her to do her very best to ensure that the Bill goes through, given that the official Opposition have always supported it.

I was going to apologise for making perhaps waspish comments to the hon. Gentleman, but unfortunately I cannot remember at all the exchange that we had. However, he is right to say that the Bill is important, and he has played an important role in it. With the support of all sides of the House, it will become an Act of Parliament.

I would have found the delegation to a Committee of controversial elements of the Digital Economy Bill more reassuring had I not seen item 12 on today’s Order Paper. The Draft Conditional Fee Agreements (Amendment) Order 2010 was rejected by a Committee last Thursday but, less than a week later, it is being reintroduced by the Secretary of State for Justice. Even at this late stage, will my right hon. and learned Friend consider making representations to remove those controversial measures from the draft Bill?

My hon. Friend can be reassured that the motion on the Order Paper to which he refers will not be moved today. It might be on the Order Paper now, but it is not going anywhere.

On 11 March, the right hon. and learned Lady said that

“it is gratifying that there were very big majorities in the House last week to resolve this matter and move forward. We have the resolutions of the House. My task now is to make sure that the House is given an opportunity to endorse the Standing Orders that will give effect to them. My mandate is the will of the House as expressed in the resolutions. We need Standing Orders to give effect to them—nothing less.”—[Official Report, 11 March 2010; Vol. 507, c. 433.]

Through you, Mr. Speaker, may I urge the Leader of the House to explain why she is reneging on a commitment that she gave for two weeks running—that if there were objections to the Standing Orders, they could not go through on the nod and that she would make time for the will of the House to be made clear? In her own words, it is her duty and responsibility to ensure that that happens.

First, we should remind ourselves that the overwhelming majority of the Wright Committee’s important proposals have gone through. Secondly, we have drafted the Standing Orders that give effect to the will of the House, and it is disappointing that they are being blocked. However, the Standing Orders have been drafted and are available for the House, and there will be an opportunity when the House returns for them to be put into effect. The objections are there. If they are taken off the Order Paper, they can be dealt with and go through as remaining Orders of the Day. If they do not, the hon. Gentleman should not be alarmed. All is not lost. They will remain there; they represent the will of the House, as expressed by a large majority, and it can happen as soon as the new Parliament arrives.

Will there be an opportunity to discuss the business of Government during the election period? In particular, will subcontracts continue to be let for the aircraft carrier order in my constituency? Given that the Royal Navy and the aircraft carrier are under threat from the official Opposition, it is obviously something of great interest to many of my constituents.

The relationship to the business motion is extremely tangential, but I am sure the Leader of the House will deal with it.

My hon. Friend will be reassured, as all Members should be, that although this country, as we know, remains in a fragile economic situation, we are on the right path. Businesses are beginning to grow and unemployment is beginning to fall, but we will continue to make sure that we take the right decisions for the future of the economy. Businesses will be able to look to the Government to be sure that we stand beside them—we do not let the recession take its course, as the Opposition would.

In the very short time available before Parliament is dissolved, could the Leader of the House find time for a short debate on the decision by NHS West Sussex to close two very popular dental surgeries? One is at Maywood health centre in Bognor Regis and one is at Flansham Park. The decision has baffled the 4,000 patients who are registered with those dental surgeries. I have written to the Secretary of State for Health to enlist his support, but a debate would be helpful in trying to persuade NHS West Sussex to reverse that wrong and unpopular decision.

Obviously, as the hon. Gentleman will know, that is a matter for local decision making. He has written to my right hon. Friend and will await a reply. He will know that his constituents, like all our constituents, have benefited from the massive increase for NHS funding, including in primary care and dental services.

The Leader of the House has listed approximately a dozen measures to be discussed in the next two days. She did not tell my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House how much time she expected each measure to take. Will she now do so? Will she also allow the House to sit on Friday so that the Standing Orders can then be approved properly on that day?

A few minutes ago, the Leader of the House told us that the controversial elements of the Digital Economy Bill, in relation to the application of technical measures, would be covered by the super-affirmative procedure. Can she confirm that it will apply to clause 11 as well as clause 18? She told the House that the Bill would go through only as a result of consensus. Can she define what she meant by “consensus”?

There is plenty of opportunity to discuss all this in detail with the Secretary of State when he brings forward the Bill for its Second Reading.