Skip to main content

Leader of the House

Volume 600: debated on Thursday 22 October 2015

The Leader of the House was asked—

EVEL

1. What plans he has to review the effectiveness of the Government's English votes for English laws proposals after implementation. (901712)

The Government will carry out a review of the new system next year, subject to approval by the House today, and I will consult the relevant Committees, including those in the House of Lords, should this House agree the proposed changes. We will consider carefully any observations and recommendations that arise from those reviews, to ensure that the English votes mechanism works as effectively as possible. I expect that the House will return to this issue at that time.

What steps will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that measures on English votes for English laws do not damage the fabric of our cherished Union and lead to a situation where this House could be deemed to be the representative assembly of England, rather than the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and that is why we have chosen not to go down the path of an English Parliament. As we devolve more powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—we committed to that in our manifesto and we believe it is the right thing to do—we seek to ensure that the English also have a role in that devolution, but not in a way that removes any Member from any part of the current debating process in this Chamber.

I find myself in the strange position of agreeing with the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) for probably the first time in my life, so that is a good thing. Will the Leader of the House ensure that in any review he undertakes, the position of border constituencies such as mine in Wales, and those in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, are reflected carefully so that Mr Speaker’s tight discretion on determining what is an English-only Bill is reviewed in the light of pressures on my constituents?

The review and the work we do in the next 12 months should take into account all concerns raised by Members. I give the right hon. Gentleman a commitment that we will of course listen to views from across the House on this and other matters.

I, too, find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell). Does the Leader of the House not accept that unless he is very careful in the drafting of the new rules, there will be the unintended consequence of creating certain members of the other place who will be more powerful than Members of this House?

I do not accept that. We have taken great care in drafting the rules. We will monitor very carefully their operation in practice. If the hon. Gentleman and other Members have concerns over the next 12 months, they will undoubtedly want to raise them as part of our review process.

EVEL

2. If he will take steps to ensure that proposals for English votes for English laws do not give English-only certification to Bills or clauses with consequential implications for Scotland. (901713)

The proposed changes to Standing Orders would mean that clauses or schedules that Mr Speaker considers to relate exclusively to England, or to England and Wales, disregarding any minor or consequential effects for other parts of the United Kingdom, will be subject to the new legislative process.

Minor or consequential, and consequential. This will include any potential spending effects. Any decision on spending that will have a material impact on the allocation of funding to the devolved Administrations will always be taken by a vote of the whole House of Commons through either the estimates process or a money resolution.

In response to a question from me in June, the Leader of the House said that the Scotland Bill could be considered as “English votes for English laws”. When we debated EVEL on 15 July, the Leader of the House committed to producing a list of measures in the Queen’s Speech that he thought might be subject to EVEL. I would very much appreciate it if he could tell me where I could find that list.

It will of course be a matter for you, Mr Speaker, to decide which measures are subject to this process. It is, as I will tell the House this afternoon, my view that there are probably two or three remaining Bills in this Session that are likely to prompt you to issue a certification decision. All this, of course, is entirely academic until the House has decided whether to accept the Standing Orders.

The Leader of the House mentioned the estimates process. Has he discussed with the Treasury the likely increased scrutiny of the estimates process as a result of the can of worms he is opening up with English votes for English laws? The Procedure Committee is very much looking forward to Treasury officials appearing before it. I wonder whether Treasury officials are looking forward to appearing.

Dare I say that it is Treasury questions next week and the hon. Gentleman is of course able to put that question to the Treasury?

Party Conferences

3. If he will make it his policy that the House not adjourn for the period covered by the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat party autumn conferences. (901715)

We have no current plans to make changes to the conference recess. We periodically review the parliamentary calendar to ensure that it allows for Members and the House to carry out their work in the most effective way possible both in the House and in their constituencies, being mindful of other responsibilities that Members may have.

Her Majesty’s Government love it when Parliament is not sitting, because there is no one to hold them to account on the Floor of the House of Commons. Given that the number of days we have in recess is already far too large and that it is completely unnecessary to have an adjournment for the main party conference season, will the Deputy Leader of the House reconsider her remarks?

This House already meets for over 150 days a year. I recognise the length of the recess. A decision was made in the previous Parliament to remove the extended recess so that we would sit in September. I think that is the right approach. It worked well in the previous Parliament and it worked well last month, too.

These are disappointing comments from the Deputy Leader of the House. There is now a real willingness in this House to reconsider its recess plans. It is simply absurd that we abandon our business for one week to accommodate eight Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament. When we come to consider the recess period, may we also look at when the recess starts? Surely it is within the wit of this House to have a summer recess that includes all the summer holidays of every nation of the United Kingdom, including Scotland.

The hon. Gentleman has made this representation before. I note that the Scottish Parliament reconvened the week before we did in September and, as a consequence, did not quite cover all its school holidays. Dare I say that the result in May 2015 was not exactly predicted when the parties set up their initial conference arrangements? As Deputy Leader of the House, I always listen to representations.

My hon. Friend the deputy Leader of the House, the Leader of the House and the Conservative party chairman are talented people, and it cannot be beyond their wit to organise the Conservative party conference into a Friday, Saturday and Sunday so that the House can continue sitting. May I urge her to reconsider this suggested initiative, rather than dismiss it out of hand?

I never dismiss Members’ contributions out of hand. Like my hon. Friend, I enjoyed our party conference in Manchester this year. I am not conscious that I am the chairman of the Conservative party and therefore make our conference arrangements, but, as always, we are a listening Government, and I am sure we will take representations appropriately.

I do not entirely agree with the suggestion from the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) about the party conference season, but there is an issue about how suitable parliamentary scheduling is for modern families, both for Members and House staff. For example, next week is half term, yet we are taking recess the following week. What is the deputy Leader of the House doing to modernise how House business is scheduled to address this problem?

I appreciate the hon. Lady was not here, but in the last Parliament the House resolved to make some changes to its hours. I am conscious of the responsibilities people might have—whether with families, children, parents or other extenuating circumstances—but, as I have advised new Members already, the Procedure Committee looked again at this and decided not to recommend any changes to the House. It is open to the Committee to make further investigations, however, and I am sure that her comments will be passed on to its Chairman and that she can make them directly.