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House of Commons Hansard
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Business of the House
07 April 2010
Volume 508

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I inform the House that I have not selected an amendment to the motion, so the debate is on the main motion.

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I beg to move,

That the following provisions shall have effect—

Sittings on 7 and 8 April: general

1. At the sittings today and tomorrow—

(1) any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour, and shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House;

(2) any Lords Amendments or Lords Message in respect of any Bill may be considered forthwith without any further Question being put;

(3) Standing Orders Nos. 83D to 83H and 83I(2), (3) and (6) (conclusion of proceedings, &c.) shall apply to proceedings to be taken in accordance with this Order (but with the omission of Standing Orders Nos. 83D(2)(c) and 83E(2)(c));

(4) notices of Amendments, new Clauses or new Schedules to be moved in Committee on any Bill may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time; and

(5) Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.

Wednesday 7 April

2. At today’s sitting the following business shall be brought to a conclusion (unless already concluded) at the time after its commencement shown in brackets at the end of each sub-paragraph—

(1) proceedings on consideration and Third Reading of the Bribery Bill [Lords] (one hour);

(2) Committee of the whole House and remaining proceedings on the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [Lords] (one hour);

(3) proceedings on the Motion in the name of Secretary Alan Johnson relating to the draft Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2010 (one hour);

(4) proceedings on consideration and Third Reading of the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill (one hour);

(5) any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the bringing in of an Appropriation Bill, presentation and First Reading of any Bill brought in in pursuance of that Motion and remaining proceedings on any such Bill, to which Standing Order No. 56 (Consolidated Fund Bills) shall apply (forthwith);

(6) Second Reading and remaining proceedings on the Finance Bill (three hours); and

(7) Committee of the whole House and remaining proceedings on the Digital Economy Bill [Lords] (two hours).

3. Proceedings on any Lords Amendments or Lords Message in respect of any Bill which are taken at today’s sitting shall be brought to a conclusion (unless already concluded) one hour after their commencement.

4. Paragraph 2(3) shall have effect notwithstanding Standing Order No. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or on European Union documents).

5. Paragraph 2(6) shall have effect notwithstanding the practice of the House as to the intervals between stages of a Bill brought in upon Ways and Means Resolutions.

6. If the Finance Bill is read a second time, it shall stand committed to a Committee of the whole House and the House will immediately resolve itself into a Committee on the Bill.

7. If, on the conclusion of proceedings in Committee on the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [Lords], the Finance Bill or the Digital Economy Bill [Lords], the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.

8. At today’s sitting, the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until any Messages from the Lords have been received and any Committee to draw up Reasons has reported.

Thursday 8 April

9. At tomorrow’s sitting proceedings on consideration and Third Reading of the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill shall be brought to a conclusion (unless already concluded) one hour after their commencement.

10. Proceedings on any Lords Amendments or Lords Message in respect of any Bill which are taken at tomorrow’s sitting shall be brought to a conclusion (unless already concluded) one hour after their commencement.

11. At tomorrow’s sitting, the Speaker shall not adjourn the House before a Message has been received from the Lords Commissioners.

12. On Thursday 8 April there shall be no sitting in Westminster Hall.

General

13. Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.

14. The Order made on Friday 12 March 2010 that the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill be considered on Friday 23 April 2010 shall be discharged; and, notwithstanding the practice of the House which forbids the bringing forward of an Order of the Day, the Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee, shall be considered tomorrow.

15. A reference in this Order to proceedings on or in respect of a Bill includes a reference to proceedings on any Money Resolution, Ways and Means Resolution or Order of Consideration Motion in relation to those proceedings.

16. The Speaker may not arrange for a debate to be held in accordance with Standing Order No. 24 (emergency debates) at today’s sitting, or at tomorrow’s sitting, before the conclusion of the proceedings at that sitting to which this Order applies.

17. If today’s sitting continues after 10.30 am on Thursday 8 April, this Order shall have effect as if any reference to the sitting on Thursday 8 April were a reference to today’s sitting.

Yesterday, I announced to the House the business that we will take in the run-up to Dissolution next Monday. This motion will enable the House to conclude the passage of legislation before the general election. It allows the House a truncated process for concluding the consideration of Government Bills that have completed all their stages in one House and have had at least a Second Reading in the Second House. It also provides for the Finance Bill and Appropriation Bill to be taken through all their stages, which is essential to the continuation of the tax system and of public expenditure during the election period. The only Government Bills that will be taken through this truncated process are those that have already received a substantial amount of scrutiny in both Houses, or those essential to the maintenance of the public finances.

The motion provides an opportunity for the House to complete its consideration of two private Members’ Bills that were unopposed on Second Reading and have completed their Committee stage.

The motion enables the House’s remaining time to be divided between the Bills. By the time the House rises on Monday it will, I hope, have passed 13 Bills, in addition to the 10 Acts that have already received Royal Assent in the current Session. Hon. Members know that the process will work only if the official Opposition agree to the measures presented by the Government, and I thank them for their co-operation.

Under the terms of the motion, each of the following items of business will be allocated up to one hour in today’s sitting: Third Reading of the Bribery Bill [Lords]; Committee of the whole House and remaining stages of the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [Lords]; consideration of the draft Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2010; and remaining stages of the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill. All stages of the Appropriation Bill will then be taken. Up to three hours will be allocated to the Second Reading and remaining stages of the Finance Bill. The Committee and remaining stages of the Digital Economy Bill [Lords] will then be taken for up to two hours. The House may also be asked to consider any Lords amendments or other Lords messages that may be received for up to one hour each.

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I note that one piece of unfinished business has not been included in the motion. Can the Leader of the House explain why no time has been allocated for the House to implement the Standing Orders for which it voted so overwhelmingly in principle, and which would finally redeem at least something of the record of the Government and the House in regard to reform? What held the Leader of the House up? Were the official Opposition against the allocation of that time, or were the Government against it?

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As I have explained, during the remaining two days of business we must deal with 13 Bills and one statutory instrument, consideration of which I hope will be completed. That is a great deal for the House to get through.

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rose—

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I am still replying to the question asked by the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith).

The Chair of the Reform of the House of Commons Committee and others have tabled an amendment, which has not been selected for debate and which is the subject of the question asked by the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine. The hon. Gentleman has called for the allocation of time in which to debate the Standing Orders relating to the establishment of a Business Committee for the next Parliament.

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You oppose it.

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I do not oppose it; I support it, as I have made clear.

I do not want to take time away from any of the Bills that need to reach the stage of Royal Assent by providing time for the implementation of Standing Orders that will not apply until the next Parliament in any event. We have done the work on Commons reform in this Parliament. The Commons Reform Committee was set up in this Parliament, it has reported to this Parliament, and its reports been debated in this Parliament. All its key recommendations have been endorsed by the House, including the establishment of a House Business Committee.

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rose—

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I am still replying to the question, although my answer may seem rather extensive.

Following the substantive decisions on changes in our procedures, the House has agreed to the Standing Orders which will allow the election by secret ballot of Chairs of Select Committees. It has also agreed to the election by secret ballots of members of Select Committees, and to a new provision enabling Back Benchers to table motions which can be not only debated but voted on. All the measures that arose from the Wright Committee’s proposals are in place.

We have tabled the changes to Standing Orders that would establish the new Business Committee—which I support—and the House has agreed that that will start when the House returns after the general election. The motions are on the Order Paper, but they cannot be passed without a debate, because they have been objected to. As I said yesterday, I consider it wrong for hon. Members who lost the vote on the substantive motion to obstruct the clear will of the House by objecting to the new Standing Orders. The House has expressed its view in principle, and the Standing Orders implement that decision. I think it wrong for hon. Members to object to that, and I think that they should withdraw the amendments that serve as an objection.

These changes are not due to become operational until the new Parliament. To put it bluntly to hon. Members and to anticipate any intervention, we are not going to propose to the House, because I do not think it is right to do so, that we sacrifice primary legislation, which can reach Royal Assent now, for the sake of a Standing Order that is not due to come into effect until after the general election. That is my position. I support this reform, I expect it to be seen through in the next Parliament—the work has been done in this Parliament—and hon. Members should be reassured that as this change has been agreed by the House, there is no way in which that genie will be put back in the bottle after the general election.

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Will the Leader of the House give way?

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I will give way, but I am almost certain that I have answered the point and this is just a question of the hon. Gentleman’s not agreeing. I do not think that it is right to sacrifice primary legislation for the sake of a Standing Order that will not be implemented until the next Parliament in any event.

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The terms of the motion, which the Leader of the House actually voted against, provided for this change to be made in time for the beginning of the next Parliament. That means that this should be done in this Parliament; it is the job of this Parliament. She accepted that when she said:

“I am under a duty and a responsibility to ensure that this happens before the next Parliament so that…Standing Orders are in place.”—[Official Report, 18 March 2010; Vol. 507, c. 986.]

Was she wrong then? Did she misspeak? Was she trying to mislead us? Why did she say that then, given what she is saying now?

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Order. Just before the Leader of the House responds, may I say that I am sure that the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) would want to insert the word “inadvertently” before the word “mislead”? I am sure that he would not accuse the Leader of the House of seeking to mislead the House.

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I am not, either inadvertently or in a calculated way, trying to mislead the House, nor did I misspeak. What I have said is that following the will of the House being expressed in the resolution, I would ensure that Standing Orders giving effect to that will would be on the Order Paper, so that the will of the House could come into effect. That is what I have done. Hon. Members who lost the vote have put up an objection in order to stop this going through now. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that we all agreed that, irrespective of whether the Standing Orders are dealt with now or after the House returns, the new House Committee would not be operational until the new Parliament. We should be ensuring that it is operational when the House gets back after the general election. My priority is to get these two private Members’ Bills and these 13 Bills through to Royal Assent; I want to get the primary legislation on to the statute book. The Standing Orders to allow the House to manage its own business can be dealt with when the House gets back. I really believe that when the new Members arrive in the next Parliament, they will find that we have paved the way for the House to organise its own business, instead of having the Leader of the House pick on behalf of the House the subjects of topical debates and the non-Government business. That is progress that the House has made. Opinion has moved on and that will be the settled will of the House when the House gets back.

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rose—

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No, I am not going to give way, because I have just got to discuss tomorrow’s business.

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rose—

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Okay, I will give way to my hon. Friend.

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Can the Leader of the House explain why we can find time to deal with two private Members’ Bills and a statutory instrument—we are likely after a long night tonight to rise around tea time tomorrow—yet we cannot find an hour, and I must say that this will not take an hour, to deal with this Standing Order? It was promised in order to give expression to the will of this House and of a Select Committee that I and many others spent the summer serving on, its having been set up by this Prime Minister.

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My hon. Friend is one of the Members who have done so much to move the view of the House forward and to work out the detailed arrangements so that we can carry out our business better. That is the will of the House; it has been resolved and, as I say, the Standing Orders have been drafted. However, I do not think that he should minimise the importance of giving priority to important Bills, such as the Digital Economy Bill and these two private Members’ Bills, and leaving the Standing Order changes, which have all been drafted so are all ready to go when the House returns, until later. Hon. Members are creating the impression that somehow the plug has been pulled on reform, but that is not the case because what has happened is that the Wright Committee has made a great many proposals and the House has agreed them. That is a major step forward. Just one set of Standing Orders remains, which can safely be left until the House gets back.

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rose

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No, I am not going to give way, because I have set out my view.

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rose—

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I shall give way to my hon. Friend.

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I understand that this is not a difficulty of my right hon. and learned Friend’s making and that she is not responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves. However, we are in a very silly position because the House has resolved that it wants to do this in this Parliament—that is what the House has agreed—and it simply requires a small action on her part to enable it to happen. The objectors are not going to press their objections; one of them has already told me that his objection has been withdrawn. This can be done readily and easily. The House has said that it wants to do it, so I, again, ask her to ensure that we can.

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If the objections are being withdrawn, as my hon. Friend has said, I would very much welcome that. Any amendment would have to be withdrawn, but then these provisions could go through on the nod. There is no doubt about that. Most of the Standing Orders that we drafted, which simply gave expression to the will of the House and put it into practice, went through on the nod. I shall check up again with the Table Office, and if all those who objected have withdrawn their objections—I think it is wrong for them to object to the House’s having Standing Orders that put into effect the will of the House—of course this can go through.

I propose that in tomorrow’s sitting the House takes the remaining stages of the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill, for up to one hour. The House may then go on to consider any Lords amendments or other Lords messages that may be received relating to six Bills: the Crime and Security Bill; the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill; the Children, Schools and Families Bill; the Energy Bill; the Financial Services Bill; and the Flood and Water Management Bill. Up to one hour is allocated for consideration of Lords amendments on each Bill. We expect Parliament to be prorogued at the end of tomorrow’s sitting. I hope that the House will agree to this motion swiftly so that we can proceed to consider the important legislation before us.

On behalf of the Government, I conclude by thanking all the staff of the House for their work during this Parliament. I also extend my deep thanks to the civil servants across Whitehall and in my private office who support the work of the Office of the Leader of the House. I commend the motion to the House.

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May I endorse what the right hon. and learned Lady said in her concluding remarks and thank all those who have worked in the House and done a fantastic job supporting us and helping us to perform our duties to the public? This has not been the most illustrious of Parliaments, but I hope that those of us who are returned in six weeks’ time can work together to ensure that the next one is better.

This could be a long day, because nine hours are programmed for debate after this debate, which can go on until 7 o’clock. That is in addition to any votes and consideration of any Lords amendments, so I shall keep my comments to a minimum. As I said yesterday, the Conservatives have taken, and will continue to take over the next few days, a constructive approach to the Bills before the House. I must say that there would have been much less to wash up had we spent less time earlier in the Session on the so-called declaratory Bills—the motherhood and apple pie Bills, which were simply press releases put into legislation. They took time away from the important Bills, some of which now confront us. We could thus have made faster progress on them.

It is of course the collective responsibility of the House to ensure that the legislation is properly scrutinised. The Government have no divine right to get their Bills on to the statute book if they have not gone round the course. Conservative Members are pleased that some of the more objectionable sections of these Bills have been removed, and I hope we can work together to ensure that the good bits safely reach the statute book. I will leave it to my various Front-Bench colleagues to pass comment on each Bill as we reach it.

Let me return to the point that took up much of the right hon. and learned Lady’s speech, but first may I respond to the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith)? The Opposition have in no way obstructed the bringing forward of the Standing Orders, which is what he implied. I echo the thoughts of colleagues across the House, who are bitterly disappointed that the Leader of the House has failed to find the time for the debate on the Back-Bench business committee.

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I was not implying that but genuinely seeking to learn from the Leader of the House, as it was a two-party negotiation, where the stumbling block was. The Government are clearly the stumbling point. I welcome the fact that the shadow Leader of the House seems to be committed to that proposal. Is that commitment one that he thinks he could deliver if he were in government?

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I have a peroration that, if the hon. Gentleman can contain himself, will give him the answer to his question.

I was checking up on the commitments the right hon. and learned Lady had given this House. On 11 March, she 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.]

On 18 March she said:

“He”—

meaning me—

“need not worry about progress being made on the proposals that we shall be going forward with. We need to complete the process of placing before the House for its approval the Standing Orders that would give effect to the resolutions of the House, and they will indeed be brought forward”—[Official Report, 18 March 2010; Vol. 507, c. 975.],

and on 25 March:

“On the Reform of the House of Commons Committee proposals, we have put on the Order Paper the Standing Orders that give effect to the resolutions of the House, and we will bring those forward for approval by the House on Monday.”—[Official Report, 25 March 2010; Vol. 508, c. 380.]

She did not—she had to withdraw that commitment in a subsequent debate on the same day.

The Leader of the House has to accept responsibility. She could have found the time—an hour and a half—between the beginning of March and now to debate the Standing Orders and for the House to reach a conclusion. On an earlier occasion, because one of my independently minded Back-Bench colleagues objected to a private Member’s Bill, she tried to pin the responsibility on the official Opposition. By the same analogy, those who have objected to these Standing Orders are all members of her party and, by the same logic, she must accept some collective responsibility for the fact that it is Labour Members of Parliament who have tabled amendments that have obstructed their progress.

In a recent argument in The House Magazine, the right hon. and learned Lady declared, in reference to parliamentary reforms, “Bring it on, Sir George”. In the light of what has now happened, I am delighted to confirm to the House that that is exactly what I might have to do in a few weeks’ time.

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I too am extremely disappointed that the Government have chosen not to allocate time for the completion of the reforms proposed by the Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright)—or at least those parts of them that the Government committed themselves to bring forward. As the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) has just said, the Leader of the House committed herself to doing that on three separate occasions in three separate weeks. The only thing I would add to his comments is that she repeatedly said that the relevant orders would be brought before the House before the next election.

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

“I can assure the House that we will bring forward the Standing Orders, and there will be an opportunity for the House to endorse them before the next election.”—[Official Report, 11 March 2010; Vol. 507, c. 433.]

On 18 March, she said:

“I am under a duty and a responsibility to ensure that this happens before the next Parliament so that the Standing Orders are in place.”—[Official Report, 18 March 2010; Vol. 507, c. 986.]

That is the commitment she is going back on today by saying that the completion of the work can be left to the next Parliament. That is not what she was saying in March.

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Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that it is risible to hold the notion that the dewy-eyed political virgins that will descend on this place, irrespective of the outcome of the general election, will have as their raison d’être a reforming zeal rather than seeking, as all new Members do, preferment as quickly as possible? Is this not a matter that should be resolved in this Parliament, as promised?

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It is important that we do what we can now. Parliaments have nicknames—the Long Parliament, the Short Parliament, the Good Parliament and the Bad Parliament—and I am afraid that the next Parliament will be the Naive Parliament. We need to bear that in mind in what we decide to do today.

The Leader of the House said that there is not time today or tomorrow to fit in these 90 minutes. Can she confirm that if the Government wanted to they could extend the wash-up period into Friday? That would give us an entire day to debate these matters. Will she give an assurance to the House that if we find ourselves, as we often do at Prorogation, with the House adjourned while waiting for the other place to complete its consideration of Bills—I am sure that that will happen—she will reconsider her decision and use that time to pass the Standing Orders? What is different about the Standing Order changes is that they do not require the consent of the other place. We can make them here ourselves without any ping-pong. That is a crucial difference between this proposal and her proposals for the consideration of Bills.

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Is there not something particularly special about this? In this case, the House spoke and the House voted for something to happen. I believe my hon. Friend has a side interest as an historian of this place and I would like to ask him whether a Government have ever previously defied the will of the House in not doing what they are bound to do by a resolution of the House. They had to act when they lost the motion on the Gurkhas. Have a Government ever before been so arrogant that they have defied the will of the House in this way?

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I cannot think of an example of that. I can think of examples of Governments completely losing their ability to do what they have promised to do before they fall, but not in this situation, where the Government still have a majority that they could use to fulfil their commitment.

Briefly, let me come on to what we are going to do tomorrow. The motion says that we will be considering Lords amendments and that there will be an hour for each of the Bills. Presumably that will include the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. I thought I was going to come to this debate to say that an hour would not be enough to consider a Bill of such massive importance, but it seems that minute by minute the Government and those on the Conservative Front Bench are getting together to cross out more and more of it, including the Government’s commitment to hold a referendum on electoral reform and to remove the absurd by-elections for hereditary peers. I noticed that the Leader of the House was pointing to the shadow Leader of the House, saying that this was all the fault of the wicked Tories. Let me say this to the Government: it is not; it is their fault.

There is a different way forward which the Government have chosen not to take. They could have tabled a business motion in the Lords that would guarantee the passage through the Lords of the parts of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill that they are now agreeing with the Conservatives to get rid of. There are precedents for this because in 1997, when the Conservatives were last in charge, there was a business motion in the House of Lords in the wash-up period—[Interruption.] As the shadow Leader of the House says, the Conservative party at that point had a majority in the Lords. The question for the Government is why they have not tabled such a business motion and challenged the other parties in the Lords—the Liberal Democrats and the Cross Benchers—to support them on that motion. If they did that, I am sure they would get widespread support.

What I suspect is going on is a combination of two things. On the one hand, the Government are split over whether they want these reforms at all. This has always been the case with electoral reform and the Labour party. I remember as an elector receiving a letter from a Labour candidate in 1997 promising electoral reform then. Strangely, 13 years later it has not happened. This is the normal pattern, and there are reactionary forces in the Labour party that are opposed to all political reform. I am sure that is one factor. The other factor is the attempt to raise an election issue by pretending that the Labour party is in favour of reform and the Conservatives are not, when the reality is that with the right advice and the right negotiations across parties those reforms could be put through now. That strikes me as an entirely fake manoeuvre.

Those two issues—the completion of the reform of the House that was proposed by the Wright Committee, and the Government’s pusillanimous treatment of political reform—mean that although the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire was able to say that he would follow a constructive approach, both in this House and in the other place, I presume, through the wash-up, I cannot make the same commitment because my party has been excluded from the negotiations. So I am not in a position either in this House or, more importantly, in the other place to say that we will co-operate with the Government in getting their business through. Indeed, we will start that approach this afternoon by dividing the House on this motion.

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The problem that has been presented by the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) has been alluded to already in this morning’s Westminster Hall debate secured by the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter). In the limited time available in that debate, we considered some of these questions.

This issue is the effectiveness of government and who runs the House of Commons—and in turn the country. It is also about the imbalance that has been created as a result of the persistent degradation and diminution of this House’s role in relation to the Government. There is a way of describing that in relation to the mechanics of this House—it is called “the usual channels” or the Whips. Of course there has to be a Whip system, otherwise there would be chaos. People join political parties, and when they vote for those parties, using their freedom of choice at the ballot box, they have the right to expect that there will be a proper and proportionate degree of support for the causes and political objectives that they supported in the general election. But—and this is a very big but—that does not mean that there is an unconditional requirement to do whatever the Whips, and therefore the Government, want. We talk about the Whips as though this is all because of them, but it is not—it is because of the orders that are given by the Government. This is about the patronage that the Government exert and the determination and the political will of having what they want. The Prime Minister says, “I will insist upon this; I will do what I want,” and he issues the directions down through the system. That is how the Whips operate.

Sometimes, criticising the manner in which the Whip system operates—I am one who does that—does not sufficiently explain the mechanics of the use of power that is exercised, but not on behalf of the people: once a person has been elected as the Prime Minister, the question is whether he is bound by manifesto commitments. The short answer, in relation to the European constitution, for example, is quite clearly no. Obviously, when it comes to having a referendum on the European issue, the answer is also no. The real issue before us, then, is this: we have to rebalance and recalibrate the manner in which the Whip system operates in practice, and the mechanism for that is the Standing Orders. It is impossible to imagine that somehow or other there will, by the waving of a magic wand, be a change in the way the Government and legislation operate in practice, so the Standing Orders themselves will have to be addressed. As I have said a number of times in the past few months, it is essential to return power to the House of Commons and take it away from the Executive.

I have not the faintest idea whether you agree with this, Mr. Speaker, and it is not for me to suggest that you should agree to it, or whether you have any right to agree to it, as we are talking about the House of Commons and not about the Speaker. I believe that the Speaker’s role, in historical terms, is, as was said on a famous occasion, to be a servant of the House. The Speaker might therefore want to give guidance and might have his own views, but when it comes to the application of the rules, the Executive in the 1880s were given the power to determine Standing Orders. I believe that many others would agree with me if they were aware of what was going on, and would want the running of the Standing Orders to be vested in the impartial role of the Speaker himself. That would be one way of ensuring that we did not have an omnipotent Government who were driven by political will, irrespective of the freedom of choice that was exercised at the ballot box, and through the party Whip system.

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Order. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that his historical ruminations are endlessly fascinating and his bid for greater powers for the Speaker is obviously enticing, but I feel sure that he will now focus his remarks on the business of House motion.

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It is against that background, because it is important that we get the landscape right, historically, politically and practically, that I move to the issue of the Wright Committee report and, of course, Parliament First. Like other Members present I have been a member of Parliament First, and I have said in the past that I would prefer it to be called People and Parliament First because it is about the people. This is not our Parliament; it is the people’s Parliament, but we are their representatives—another practical requirement. When it comes to the business of the House and what the Leader of the House appears to have done—I mentioned this to the Deputy Leader of the House this morning in Westminster Hall, and we still do not have an answer; she told us she was not in a position at this stage to make a declaration as to exactly what was going to happen on this business of the House motion—

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I think I am being misquoted, Mr. Speaker. I said that I was not going to pre-empt the debate.

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Yes, well, it comes to much the same thing. Let us not split hairs. The important question is about the proposals of the Wright Committee, Parliament First and others who have fought this battle for radical reform. We know that Select Committee Chairmen are going to be chosen by secret ballot and that, through the party groups, members of relevant Select Committees will be chosen. I think that all the Select Committees should be included, but that is a separate issue, although I note that the European Scrutiny Committee and the Public Accounts Committee do not seem to be included. Irrespective of all that, the real issue about the business committee being proposed is that the Government are not prepared to put their money where their mouth was. They said that they were going to do it, and the House agreed to do it, but they have used their control over the House—I go back to my earlier comments about their control by political will over this House through the Whips and their control of the Standing Orders—and they are bypassing decisions that have, to all intents and purposes, already been taken by the House, on behalf of the people of this country, to return the running of the business of the House back to where it belongs. This is a disgraceful betrayal of the role of the Leader of the House.

The Leader of the House made her speeches and we heard them. I took part in all those debates, as did other Members who are present today. However, her actions seem to be to do with the political will of the Government and No. 10—and, no doubt, on instructions. I have an idea that she might be more on our side than she is prepared to admit. I believe she has been told by the Whips and No. 10 to do what she is doing, which is betraying this House and the people of this country. The bottom line is that she is taking away the House’s right to have a Back-Bench business committee that would enable real power to be taken back from the Executive and given to Parliament on behalf of the people who vote in general elections.

This is about freedom of choice. It is not a philosophical question, but a practical one. People sometimes think that matters of constitutional law and practice are pure abstract theory, but they are not: they are about the exercise of power, and this is an extremely good example of a deliberate misuse of power that is a betrayal of the British people just as we are about to embark on a general election.

Moreover, the House business committee that was being discussed has simply dropped off the agenda. Unless we hear something to the contrary from the Leader of the House, this business motion is in effect a clear betrayal of decisions that were made, and of arguments advanced, in the interests of the people who use their free choice to vote in general elections. They need people like us to represent their interests in the constituencies, and that is why I take the gravest exception to what I am observing today.

I do not think I am going to hear anything to counter my fears. I am convinced that the talk about referendums on parliamentary reform, proportional representation and alternative votes is just another smokescreen that is being used to take away the British people’s right to make their own decisions. The proposed changes to the electoral system would cause votes to be reshuffled by a mechanism that would dilute freedom of choice at the ballot box.

Lloyd George was on to this. I will not repeat what I have said in previous debates, but I have had some banter on this topic with the hon. Member for Cambridge. I like him very much: he is a distinguished lawyer who knows his onions, but I think the Liberal Democrat party has slightly forgotten its origins in the Speaker’s Conference of 1911 and the 1931 election.

I set out all these matters in more detail the other day, and I shall not repeat them now, but Lloyd George was completely in favour of proportional representation when it suited him and completely against it when it did not. This is all about the practicality of power, as I have described already.

The phrase “constitutional law” is almost irrelevant when one looks at what goes on in this House, because we are really talking about the use of power. A Government can exercise power when they have gained control over the system, and it is the way they do that that is dressed up as the constitutional process.

The bottom line is that the business motion is being used to programme Bills so that we cannot discuss them. An example of that is the Government’s disgraceful behaviour with regard to the Digital Economy Bill. There may not be anything intrinsically wrong with many of its objectives, but it is wrong—in principle and in fact—for us to use truncated legislative procedures. They do not give the people of this country the sort of legislation they deserve because nothing is discussed properly.

Of course, the use of such procedures also takes away from Members of Parliamentary their incentive to be in the House at all. They know perfectly well that the vote will go according to decisions taken by No. 10, the Leader of the House, the Whips and the Executive. All the proposals on alternative voting and the attempt to introduce a greater degree of fairness—

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Order. If I were a student at a tutorial being conducted by the hon. Gentleman, I would no doubt find it very satisfying, but I am seeking to chair an orderly debate. He must resist the temptation to dilate on matters that are well wide of the motion. I feel fairly confident—at least hopeful—that he might be drawing his remarks to a close, because I know that he will be sensitive to the wish of other people to speak in the debate.

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I am extremely glad that you have made that point, Mr. Speaker, because I was just beginning my peroration. The point that I was making may not be Periclean, but it is certainly relevant to what is really wrong with this House—the way that it has been betrayed by those who use their political will to prevent people from changing the system or expressing their views. The same will happen again if this motion goes in the direction that it appears to be going. It is an attack on freedom of speech in this House—that is the level of the betrayal.

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Following on from what the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) just said, the treatment of the Digital Economy Bill is symptomatic of what has happened to this House. It is nothing short of outrageous that, the day after its Second Reading, we will have just two hours in which to attempt to debate the remaining stages of such an important and controversial Bill.

It is simply not good enough for the Government to say that the Bill has been scrutinised by a bunch of unelected people at the other end of this building. That was what we were told yesterday, when Ministers said that everything was okay because there had been hours of scrutiny in the House of Lords. The last time I looked, it was this House that was elected. We are the ones who are accountable to constituents—despite the vagaries of an electoral system that means that the general election is already over in about 400 seats—yet we will have just two hours for debate. Many amendments will not be reached and many points will not be made, but the Government have the cheek to say that we should tell constituents during the election that we are doing a good job of scrutiny. It is a complete farce, as there are significant concerns—which I share—about measures in the Digital Economy Bill.

There has clearly been a carve-up between the Conservative and Labour parties. They are entitled to come to an arrangement like that in the elected House, but they are surely not entitled to prevent those of us who disagree with them from reaching our amendments, making our points against the contents of the Bill, and dividing the House on our arguments. The Government are determined to ram through the Bill on the penultimate day of this Parliament, in the space of two hours. It is a process that should take several weeks in Committee and at least one whole day—it should be more—on Report, when people are able to lobby.

How can we look our constituents in the eye and say that this is an accountable House when they do not even have time to lobby in favour of amendments? They are not able to do that lobbying because the amendments cannot be tabled until the Bill has been given a Second Reading.

There is no doubt that this so-called Leader of the House will go down in history as the destroyer of scrutiny. Under her stewardship, far more Opposition and Back-Bench amendments and new clauses—and indeed Government amendments and new clauses—have not been reached than has been the case with any other Leader of the House in recent history. I suspect that the same would be true for the more distant past.

Hardly any major Bill has received adequate scrutiny. The knives have been put in place after the business that needs to be reached, rather than before. The nature of the carve-up by Labour and the Conservatives to undermine scrutiny of the Digital Economy Bill is just a typical example of that.

That is why the House decided to do something about the Government’s approach. On certain points in the Wright Committee report, and on behalf of the Committee itself, hon. Members disagreed with the both Government and Conservative Front Benches and instead voted for two critical measures to improve scrutiny.

The Government keep saying, “Oh, you’ve got your Select Committee changes.” I welcome those changes, but they are not about scrutiny on the Floor of the House. The two measures that have been approved by hon. Members are, first, that a House business committee be set up in the next Parliament to enable us, as a House, to determine how much scrutiny legislation is given. That would take away from the Government the ability to ram through legislation in the way that is happening today and has happened for the past 10 years. The second measure was to set up a Back-Bench business committee. The vote in favour of the detail of that proposal went 2:1 against both of the major party Front Benches. As other Members have said, the Government are clearly defying the will of the House by not introducing those amendments. It is a tragedy that we do not have a chance to deal with them.

With the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) and others, I was involved in tabling an amendment to give the House the opportunity to divide on whether time should be provided tomorrow, but the amendment was not selected. I am not able to question the selection, but I think I can say that if there had been any way for the voice of Back Benchers to be heard on these matters, the amendment tabled by the hon. Gentleman, who has just entered the Chamber and is not at all out of breath, would have been selected. I think that in his selection the Speaker has been bound, on a Government day, to let the Government have their business. This is toxic to democracy in the House.

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I am glad that the hon. Gentleman uses the word toxic. I could not agree more—the words toxic and betrayal go together. When the hon. Gentleman says “bound” to make the decision, does he really mean “bound” or that there was some convention or Standing Order or some other thing that led to a decision that some people rather deplore?

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I do not want to be led—

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Order. May I just say, before the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) develops his argument, I know that he will not want to be diverted from the path of virtue. The hon. Gentleman is aware that by convention the Speaker does not give reasons for the selection or non-selection of amendments. Of my commitment to this House, and the primacy of the role of Back Benchers, the hon. Gentleman need be—and I am sure is—in no doubt. We cannot get into consideration of why things were or were not selected. Those judgments have to be made, and a miscellany of factors is involved, of which the hon. Gentleman will be aware. I think we should leave it at that.

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I agree, Mr. Speaker. I was not about to be led. I was not going to try to explore reasons; I just noted that the amendment was not, apparently, selected. I do not want to be drawn from the path of virtue—at least not on this matter.

I want to clarify what the Leader of the House has said, because we should not be in the position of thinking that we would get the Standing Orders. Many people might have had more fun during the last few weeks of their time in the House, not having to worry about such things, if we had not been led astray by the Leader of the House. She said that

“it is gratifying that there were very big majorities in the House last week to resolve this matter and move forward”—

move forward in this House.

“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.”

The Leader of the House is right about that.

“We need Standing Orders to give effect to them—nothing less.”

I could have said that. I cannot understand how the Leader of the House inadvertently told the House something that turned out not to be true. She led us astray. I am told that by definition that is inadvertent, but I still cannot understand how she could have done it. She continued:

“Whether or not that is the case”—

that is, the concern about whether the Standing Orders were in the right shape—

“I can assure the House that we will bring forward the Standing Orders, and there will be an opportunity for the House to endorse them before the next election.”

We are before the next election, but the record will show that the Leader of the House inadvertently said “before the next election”, when now she says that, apparently, she meant to say, “after the next election”. The House votes to do something before the next election. The Leader of the House tells us that there will be an opportunity for the House to endorse it before the next election, but then we are told that the House was not misled because it must have been inadvertent when she said that there was that opportunity.

I do not know whether the Leader of the House is the bad person in this, or whether she is just forced to do the grubby work of the Prime Minister and higher powers, but at some point she should turn round and say to the people who were pulling her strings in that case, “I am not going to do this any more. I am not going to spend my time inadvertently giving the House the impression that things are going to happen that then don’t happen.”

On the same day, the Leader of the House told me that she would send drafts of the Standing Order to everyone who had shown interest in the issue. No drafts were sent to anyone. She did not say, “I will table them. You can look at them, think about them and if you object, you can let me know.” She said, “I will send drafts.” I understood that “sending drafts” meant that we would be sent drafts, but perhaps I am being too literal and I was inadvertently misled in my understanding of the normal words that she used. She continued:

“The question is not what I supported”—

because she had not supported the detail—

“what the shadow Leader of the House supported or what we both supported; what matters is what the House decided.”

I agree. That led me and others to believe that we would have the Standing Orders in this Parliament. The Leader of the House said:

“The Standing Orders that I will bring forward in draft and consult the hon. Gentleman about”—

that was me—

“will be to bring into effect the will of the House.”—[Official Report, 11 March 2010; Vol. 507, c. 433-444.]

Well, where are they? How can a parliamentarian of her experience, on three separate occasions within the space of a week, inadvertently lead us to believe that something would happen that did not happen? That is the height of inadvertence.

The Leader of the House said:

“We need to complete the process of placing before the House for its approval the Standing Orders that would give effect to the resolutions of the House, and they will indeed be brought forward.”—[Official Report, 18 March 2010; Vol. 507, c. 975.]

The business motion—

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Order. It may also be inadvertence on the hon. Gentleman’s part that he is saying something that has already been said a number of times and in similar ways during the debate. He may possibly be going into rather more detail than is justified by the overall terms of the motion.

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I did not think I would get through the debate without being warned and of course I accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, the arrogance shown by the Government in their failure to bring forward the Standing Orders justifies repetition—if there is any repetition. I accede to your request, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I always do. I will just say how regrettable it is that in their last week in this place, many Members who served on the Wright Committee not only see the inability to put before the House what they worked so hard for, but see it done in a way that is a betrayal of what we were told.

I see in his place the hon. Member for Cannock Chase, who has always encouraged me to be active on these issues. I am grateful to him. I am his willing tool in all this, and I take the opportunity once again to pay tribute to his work in steering the Committee. I think it is sad for him that we do not get these changes in this Parliament; and I am not convinced that we shall get them in the next Parliament. I think the Government know that.

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Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the time that has been spent on debating the absence of the Standing Orders from the motion would have been better spent debating the Standing Orders themselves?

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I absolutely agree.

I want to say a word about my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth). The boat race notwithstanding—

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And “University Challenge”.

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—And “University Challenge”, and probably some second-rate league tables, all give my hon. Friend the whip hand at the moment, in his eyes, but I am prepared to overlook those things. My hon. Friend’s contribution today, yesterday and over the past few weeks has been magisterial. He will be greatly missed, because it is the work of people like him that has brought to the attention of the House the Government’s failure, as shown by the business motion, to deal with some of the things that we should really be dealing with.

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I am sure the hon. Gentleman is right on that point—within the House. The problem is that this is a direct assault on the people of this country, and the voters, as we go into a general election. We are depriving them. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is incumbent on the media—including television and the BBC—to get the matter out into the arena of public opinion so that people know just how they have been betrayed?

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Yes, and that was going to be my final point. I do not think the media at large understand how critical the issue of parliamentary reform is. Yes, scrutiny by Select Committees is vital, but until Back Benchers can have access to the Order Paper, the Government will run this place for their own narrow benefit. Yes, they should have their time; yes, of course they should be able to get their business before the House in a timely way, but that does not mean that they should run the House. That is what the Wright Committee said. Our last report, which set out the Standing Orders that the Government should have brought forward in this business motion, was not opposed by any member of the Committee. There was consensus. The people outside that consensus now are the Ministers. Had I been able to catch the Speaker’s eye in Prime Minister’s questions, I would have asked why a Prime Minister, who in 2007 said that he wanted to see parliamentary reform, and who set up the Wright Committee—eventually—

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Order. I say to the hon. Gentleman, don’t spoil it. We have had a good relationship over the years. I have had to rebuke him from time to time, but he should not push me too far. I think he is going way outside the motion.

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I was making the point that the business motion does not cover the Standing Orders that would deliver the commitment to parliamentary reform made by the Prime Minister at the outset of his premiership, and I shall ensure that I am more in order than I was earlier. The business motion therefore not only blocks the parliamentary reform that we need, but defies the will of the House, which voted by a huge majority for the Standing Orders to be in place before the election—that is the nub of the issue. The Government should be ashamed of themselves, and Conservative Front Benchers need to look closely at whether they could have done more in the negotiations to insist that the Standing Orders would be considered. I pay tribute to the work that the shadow Leader of the House has done on the issue, however, so this is nothing personal.

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We made our position on the Standing Orders absolutely clear during our negotiations with the Government—[Hon. Members: “What was it?] We said that we wanted them to go through to reflect the will of the House, rather than in the amended form proposed by the Leader of the House. That was set out by the shadow Leader of the House today and in yesterday’s business statement. I assure hon. Members that we want to go with the will of the House, rather than the new version put forward by the Leader of the House.

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Of course I accept what the hon. Gentleman says at face value, but I regret that his position in the negotiations was not strong enough—perhaps this was not a big enough priority. Of course, it might be that the Government’s top priority was not delivering the Standing Orders under the business motion and that they were saying, “No matter what, we’re not doing that.” I fear that the business motion will mean that we do not get this reform, and that will be a tragedy for those who have worked hard for it and for the House. It will also be a tragedy for the Prime Minister, who will look foolish, given what he said. More than anything else, however, it is a tragedy for the scrutiny that the House should deliver for the people.

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Until a few minutes ago, I had not intended to say anything about the motion. I was certainly taking a more benign and generous view of the situation than the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris). I accepted the statement by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House that she wanted the Standing Order to be enacted but that, unfortunately, that would be difficult because a few Members had tabled amendments. However, we heard an undertaking that whoever was in government in the next Parliament, the provisions would be brought forward. Although I was unhappy, I was content to leave it there.

Yesterday, however, I wrote to the three Members who had tabled amendments to point out that I had been told that only their amendments were preventing the House from doing the thing that it had resolved to do. One of them told me that he would therefore withdraw his amendment. When I returned to my office a few minutes ago, however—I had not intended to return to the Chamber—I found a note that had been relayed to me by the office of my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Durham (Hilary Armstrong), who is one of the amenders and, of course, a former Chief Whip. The note says:

“She has received your email. She has forwarded it to the whips office. There is nothing she can do about it. She is currently away.”

After I read that note, I ceased to be benign and generous.

This is outrageous on a number of grounds. It is outrageous that the express will of the House is being treated with contempt—I do not say by the Whips Office, but I do say by someone in the Whips Office. I had already been told that the amendments came from a single source, but we now know that to be the case. The situation not only treats the House with contempt, but treats my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House with contempt, because I know that she genuinely wants the provision to be enacted. However, by some device the House is being prevented from doing that, and if there is one thing at the heart of our proposals, it is a way of enabling the House to have more freedom of action on its own behalf, so on that fundamental ground, the position is outrageous.

While I was happy to nod all this along in a rather grumpy way, I am no longer prepared to do so. Furthermore, and more importantly, the Leader of the House should not be prepared to be treated in such a way; her credibility is on the line now. She believes in this, but some ruse is preventing it from happening. It is not her fault, but only she can do something about it.

As I said, I have stopped being rather gentle about this. I now feel quite aggressive, but that is because the House is being treated with contempt, and that is not the note on which we should end our proceedings.

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On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the context of what has been said by the very distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), may I request some guidance about the constitutional role of the Leader of the House, as expressed by “Erskine May” and all the other authorities?

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That is not a matter on which I can rule; it is not for me to advise the hon. Gentleman.

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The hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) has made a fascinating contribution. I hope that everyone will remember what he said and the atmosphere in which he said it, because he showed that there is a speciousness on the part of the Government when they say that they cannot bring the Standing Order motion above the line because amendments to it would cause the House a lot of trouble. If the motion was brought above the line, the former Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for North-West Durham (Hilary Armstrong), would not be here to move her amendment, which would therefore fall, and we could go straight on to a vote on the motion. The situation demonstrates the cynical way in which the Government are operating. We must agree that there is a conspiracy on the part of the Government because the only alternative is to cast aspersions on the veracity of the Leader of the House when she said:

“I can assure the House that we will bring forward the Standing Orders, and there will be an opportunity for the House to endorse them before the next election.”—[Official Report, 11 March 2010; Vol. 507, c. 433.]

Did that mean anything other than what it would mean to anyone with a basic knowledge of English? It means that the Leader of the House assured us that we would be able to vote on the Standing Orders before Dissolution.

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I was not able to follow this up subsequent to my point of order, but I put it to my hon. Friend that it is traditionally understood in the House that the Leader of the House is responsible for the conduct of business on behalf of Parliament as a whole. Does he agree that this incident—whether the right hon. and learned Lady was forced into this position or agreed to it—demonstrates one thing: she has not carried out the functions of the Leader of the House as we understood them to be conducted?

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Order. In putting his point to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has demonstrated that he did not raise a point of order in the first place.

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I will not be tempted into attacking the character and integrity of the Leader of the House, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) that it used to be a long-standing convention that the Leader of the House would stick up for the rights of Back Benchers, even if that made him or her unpopular with their Cabinet. However, that convention seems to have gone by the wayside. I recall that when the late John Biffen was Leader of the House, he made himself very unpopular as a member of the Government and with the then Prime Minister for sticking up for and performing the traditional role of the Leader of the House, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stone has referred. I am sorry that the current Leader of the House is no longer here.

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Is it not important to reinforce the point that it should be this House that finishes the business, because it is this House that has experienced the lack of accountability and the lack of scrutiny of the Government and wants to deliver that change, not a newly elected House that has yet to experience those failings?

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Exactly. That is why we are all suspicious about what is to happen.

I listened carefully to what my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) said, and I did not think that his words were as strong an assurance as the words of the Leader of the House that I just quoted.

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Given the appalling collusion that appears to have taken place—my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) has proof positive of it—does the hon. Gentleman agree that Members who want to drive the agenda forward have no option but to vote down the business motion? Will he organise on his Benches to ensure that that happens?

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If there is a Division, I shall certainly be in the No Lobby, and I hope that all those who want to stand up for the rights of Back Benchers will be there with me. The roof will not fall in on Parliament if the motion is voted down; the usual channels will simply have to get together and produce very quickly an alternative business motion—one that takes account of the expressed wish of the House.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his patience. Does he agree that we would not even have to go that far? The Government merely need to announce that they are prepared to table a revised business motion. If they did so, we could avoid an unseemly bun fight and an unseemly Division, and not detain hon. Members here too late tonight. We could certainly find the hour necessary in the plenty of time available on Thursday.

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Order. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be no unseemly bun fight while I am in the Chair.

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That intervention conveniently brings me to a proposition that I was going to make. The Leader of the House has said that the reason she is not prepared to table a motion on the Back-Bench business committee Standing Orders is that there is not sufficient time. I am the Member who tabled 15 amendments to the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill. I hope that, when she replies to the debate, the Deputy Leader of the House will respond to this offer, which I make publicly.

I am not part of the usual channels—not part of the carve-up—but I would be prepared to withdraw all my amendments to that Bill, thereby ensuring that we did not have to spend an hour discussing them tomorrow and that we therefore had an hour to discuss the Standing Orders relating to the business of the House and Back Benchers’ access to the Order Paper. I would be happy to give way to the hon. Lady if she thinks that that offers a reasonable way through the present impasse. We are told that the Leader of the House really wants to deliver, but is being held back; well, I am offering, in effect, one hour of time for that purpose, because I think that those Standing Orders are much more important than even the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill.

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We have living proof of the need for the motion in the shambles giving no time for proper consideration. Is my hon. Friend of my opinion that never before has the House been asked to take the Second Reading of a big, contentious Bill, the Finance Bill, and Committee stage and all remaining stages of another big, contentious Bill, the Digital Economy Bill, on the same day, with lots of other business tabled as well? Is that not complete chaos?

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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The sad thing is that, as was said at the beginning of the debate, the business motion is based on agreement between the two Front Benches. I find that difficult. The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) said that there was a carve-up between the Labour and Conservative parties, but I disagree; I think there was a carve-up between the Government and the shadow Government, which is a very different proposition.

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Does my hon. Friend recall the number of people—if not the precise number, certainly the volume—who guaranteed that the matters that we are now discussing should go through when there was, on the face of it, a convergence of view between the two Front Benches? The view of the House as a whole was carried by a very substantial number of Members, who may not be in the Chamber at the moment but who would be enraged by what is going on.

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is sad that not more Members are present, but that is probably because many take the view that there has been a carve-up and there is nothing they can do to influence it. However, it sounds as though, even as we speak, momentum is gathering behind those who will oppose the business motion, because that is the only way of getting across to the Government the strength of feeling among Back Benchers.

Let me say a little about the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill and the relevant provision in the business motion, which I think is without precedent, although I may be wrong about that. Paragraph 14 of the motion states:

“The Order made on Friday 12 March 2010 that the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill be considered on Friday 23 April 2010 shall be discharged; and, notwithstanding the practice of the House which forbids the bringing forward of an Order of the Day, the Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee, shall be considered tomorrow.”

That drives a coach and horses through the conventions of the House and procedures relating to a private Member’s Bill. Many is the private Member who has made a judgment on the best day for their Bill to appear on the Order Paper; they cannot bring forward the Bill for discussion on an earlier date than the one on the Order Paper. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), in putting his Bill on the Order Paper for 23 April, was essentially indicating to the world at large that further discussion of his Bill was not going to take place.

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The Chief Whip has just come in.

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As we are in the business of breaking conventions, perhaps the Chief Whip would like to participate in this debate and account for the behaviour of his predecessor, the right hon. Member for North-West Durham, to which the hon. Member for Cannock Chase referred.

The Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill has not been through the other House and has not completed its Report stage. If the Government wanted the Bill to have more time, they could have given time for consideration: on many days in the 10 days before the short Easter recess, the House rose three or four hours before the appointed hour. In that time, we could have discussed that and other private Members’ Bills, but the Government were against that. Going further back, I recall that the Government and Opposition Front Benchers voted down an amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) that would have allowed an extra Friday for debating private Members’ Bills. Now, we are faced with the Government saying that the Bill is so important that it has to be passed with indecent haste. They are putting tremendous pressure on the other place, which will have to consider Second Reading and all remaining stages of two Bills within 24 hours, even though, I submit, there is nothing especially important about either of them.

I conclude with a point about the speciousness of the argument advanced by the Leader of the House. She said that because there were amendments tabled to the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill, that can be debated, but although, similarly, there are amendments tabled to the Standing Orders motion, they cannot go through. We cannot have that sort of inconsistency in the argument. It is perfectly sustainable to argue that the fact that amendments have been tabled to a measure means that the measure is blocked and should not go into the wash-up, but that does not fit in with the arguments made in relation to the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill.

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Has my hon. Friend noticed that there is a certain buzzing among the Whips? The hornets’ nest is now opening up. Following the remarks made by him, by Liberal Democrat Members, by some Conservative Members, and by Labour Members, particularly the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), there is a real buzz going on. Hopefully, this debate will turn into a substantial vote.

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There is obviously going to be a Division. I know that at least two more Liberal Democrat Members want to speak. My hon. Friend has perhaps picked up on a feeling that the powers that be may want to move a closure motion—the Chief Whip is nodding—but one of the consequences of such a move is that it absolves the Deputy Leader of the House from having to answer any of the points raised in the debate. It is a very convenient procedural device to close down Back-Bench discussion. I will resume my seat in the hope that the Government Chief Whip, in one of his last acts in this House, will exercise some self-restraint, and will allow the other two Members who have been seeking to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to participate in the debate. I am sure that I will be surprised.

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On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In light of the revelations by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), I wonder whether it might be in order to move a manuscript amendment to the motion. The manuscript amendment would read,

“To add at end:

() that the motion Backbench Business (Amendment of Standing Orders) standing in the name of Ms Harriet Harman be hereby passed unamended and the Standing Orders be amended accordingly.”

The effect would be to end this debate now, to pass the Standing Order, and to allow us to get on with it.

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Order. In the circumstances, I am afraid that, at this stage, I am not prepared to accept a manuscript amendment to a motion that has previously been tabled.

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claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No.36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Division 129

7 April 2010

The House divided:

Ayes: 238
Noes: 36

Question accordingly agreed to.

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Main Question put accordingly.

The House proceeded to a Division.

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I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the No Lobby.

Division 130

7 April 2010

The House having divided:

Ayes: 314
Noes: 49

Question accordingly agreed to.

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Ordered,

That the following provisions shall have effect—

Sittings on 7 and 8 April: general

1. At the sittings today and tomorrow—

(1) any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour, and shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House;

(2) any Lords Amendments or Lords Message in respect of any Bill may be considered forthwith without any further Question being put;

(3) Standing Orders Nos. 83D to 83H and 83I(2), (3) and (6) (conclusion of proceedings, &c.) shall apply to proceedings to be taken in accordance with this Order (but with the omission of Standing Orders Nos. 83D(2)(c) and 83E(2)(c));

(4) notices of Amendments, new Clauses or new Schedules to be moved in Committee on any Bill may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bill has been read a second time; and

(5) Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.

Wednesday 7 April

2. At today’s sitting the following business shall be brought to a conclusion (unless already concluded) at the time after its commencement shown in brackets at the end of each sub-paragraph—

(1) proceedings on consideration and Third Reading of the Bribery Bill [Lords] (one hour);

(2) Committee of the whole House and remaining proceedings on the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [Lords] (one hour);

(3) proceedings on the Motion in the name of Secretary Alan Johnson relating to the draft Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2010 (one hour);

(4) proceedings on consideration and Third Reading of the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill (one hour);

(5) any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the bringing in of an Appropriation Bill, presentation and First Reading of any Bill brought in in pursuance of that Motion and remaining proceedings on any such Bill, to which Standing Order No. 56 (Consolidated Fund Bills) shall apply (forthwith);

(6) Second Reading and remaining proceedings on the Finance Bill (three hours); and

(7) Committee of the whole House and remaining proceedings on the Digital Economy Bill [Lords] (two hours).

3. Proceedings on any Lords Amendments or Lords Message in respect of any Bill which are taken at today’s sitting shall be brought to a conclusion (unless already concluded) one hour after their commencement.

4. Paragraph 2(3) shall have effect notwithstanding Standing Order No. 16 (Proceedings under an Act or on European Union documents).

5. Paragraph 2(6) shall have effect notwithstanding the practice of the House as to the intervals between stages of a Bill brought in upon Ways and Means Resolutions.

6. If the Finance Bill is read a second time, it shall stand committed to a Committee of the whole House and the House will immediately resolve itself into a Committee on the Bill.

7. If, on the conclusion of proceedings in Committee on the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill [Lords], the Finance Bill or the Digital Economy Bill [Lords], the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.

8. At today’s sitting, the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until any Messages from the Lords have been received and any Committee to draw up Reasons has reported.

Thursday 8 April

9. At tomorrow’s sitting proceedings on consideration and Third Reading of the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill shall be brought to a conclusion (unless already concluded) one hour after their commencement.

10. Proceedings on any Lords Amendments or Lords Message in respect of any Bill which are taken at tomorrow’s sitting shall be brought to a conclusion (unless already concluded) one hour after their commencement.

11. At tomorrow’s sitting, the Speaker shall not adjourn the House before a Message has been received from the Lords Commissioners.

12. On Thursday 8 April there shall be no sitting in Westminster Hall.

General

13. Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.

14. The Order made on Friday 12 March 2010 that the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill be considered on Friday 23 April 2010 shall be discharged; and, notwithstanding the practice of the House which forbids the bringing forward of an Order of the Day, the Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee, shall be considered tomorrow.

15. A reference in this Order to proceedings on or in respect of a Bill includes a reference to proceedings on any Money Resolution, Ways and Means Resolution or Order of Consideration Motion in relation to those proceedings.

16. The Speaker may not arrange for a debate to be held in accordance with Standing Order No. 24 (emergency debates) at today’s sitting, or at tomorrow’s sitting, before the conclusion of the proceedings at that sitting to which this Order applies.

17. If today’s sitting continues after 10.30 am on Thursday 8 April, this Order shall have effect as if any reference to the sitting on Thursday 8 April were a reference to today’s sitting.