Before I call the Leader of the House to respond to the urgent question, and in conformity with the recent trend of acknowledging and celebrating birthdays, I am disclosing to the House, because I have been informed, that the Leader of the House’s birthday is on Sunday, so we wish her a happy birthday.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
I could not possibly comment, but I am obviously extremely grateful.
I welcome the opportunity to respond to the question asked by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) ahead of business questions today. I have been clear about the Government’s general approach to money resolutions in business questions in recent weeks. On 22 March 2018, I responded to a question from the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed), saying:
“Discussions are carrying on through the usual channels and money resolutions will be brought forward on a case-by-case basis as soon as possible.”—[Official Report, 22 March 2018; Vol. 638, c. 407.]
I am pleased that the Government have been able to bring forward money resolutions for three Bills so far and that a number of important Bills are making progress. We will continue to look at providing money resolutions for those Bills that require them in the usual way and on a case-by-case basis.
With regard to the Bill of the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, as the Minister for the Constitution, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), set out at Committee stage yesterday, the Boundary Commission for England began the 2018 parliamentary boundary review in 2016 and is due to report its final recommendations to Government later this year. The Government have a manifesto commitment to continue with this boundary review, and as it has not yet reported, it would not be appropriate to proceed with the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill at this time. The Government will keep this private Member’s Bill under review, but it is right that we allow the Boundary Commission to report its recommendations before carefully considering how to proceed.
The financial initiative of the Crown is a long-standing constitutional principle, which means it is for the Government of the day to initiate financial resolutions. As I have said and will continue to say, the Government will bring forward further updates on money resolutions, including for the hon. Gentleman’s Bill, in future business statements in the usual way.
I thank the Minister for her response.
I believe the actions of the Government are deeply undemocratic. The private Member’s Bill on parliamentary constituencies in my name is of fundamental constitutional importance. It passed Second Reading unanimously. The Government are trying to frustrate the democratic will of Parliament and to block the Bill by procedure.
I do not deny that my Bill is controversial, but it is also reasonable. Whatever arguments can be made for or against it should take place here, between Members and in front of the public, rather than in the backrooms of Government offices. Private Members’ Bills are one of the few ways Back-Bench MPs have to make an impact in this place. It is ironic that the Executive are overreaching on a Bill that seeks to defend the power of Back Benchers.
The precedent that the Government are setting will not only block my Bill, but will allow the Government to halt any future private Members’ Bill, such as the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill, which passed Second Reading with enormous support from across the House. The Bill Committee meets again next week. Will the Minister reconsider her inconsistent and undemocratic approach to money resolutions and bring one forward today in time for the Committee to fully consider the Bill next week?
This House is owed an explanation of why the Government have taken such an inconsistent and partisan approach to granting money resolutions to private Members’ Bills. This is a serious undermining of the rights and privileges of this House by the Executive. It is time the Leader of the House stood up to her Cabinet colleagues on this matter.
As I have said, a number of private Members’ Bills are currently making their way through Parliament. We continue to look at providing money resolutions for those Bills that require them in the usual way, which is on a case-by-case basis. The financial initiative of the Crown is a basic constitutional principle, which means that it is for the Government of the day to initiate financial resolutions. This is a long-standing constitutional principle that is set out in “Erskine May”. The Government will keep the hon. Gentleman’s private Member’s Bill under review, but it is right that we allow the Boundary Commission to report its recommendations before carefully considering how to proceed.
I have to say I agree absolutely with the points made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan). I think the Government’s behaviour is undemocratic and certainly is in breach of the undertakings they gave to the Procedure Committee, which were that, if a Bill got a Second Reading, as night follows day, it would then get a money resolution and the Government would not abuse their power as they are seeking to do now.
I point out to my hon. Friend that a number of private Members’ Bill are going through and a significant number have had a Second Reading. Those are awaiting Committee. They include the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill, the Health and Social Care (National Data Guardian) Bill, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill, the Stalking Protection Bill, the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill, the Parking (Code of Practice) Bill, the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill, the Overseas Electors Bill, the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill and others. It is very important that the Government use their good offices to bring forward money resolutions on a case-by-case basis in line with the long-held constitutional principle that it is for the Government to bring forward money resolutions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) was right to ask for this urgent question, and you were right to grant it, Mr Speaker.
The Leader of the House knows that Members from all parties raised this matter with her last week, and yet again this week the money resolution was refused. She quotes “Erskine May”. It is clear that money resolutions should automatically follow Second Reading. Any tome on the workings of Parliament, whether “Erskine May” or “How Parliament Works”, states that they normally follow Second Reading. Not to introduce a money resolution is an unreasonable conclusion that no reasonable decision-making body would come to.
As my hon. Friend said, the will of the House was clear: the Bill got its Second Reading unanimously. The instructions given to the Boundary Commission were constrained and his Bill would do a number of things to those constrained instructions. It would expand the electorate by providing for the use of new electoral registers based on the latest figures following the referendum and the 2017 election. That is reasonable. The old instructions tied the hands of the Boundary Commission by maintaining the arbitrary figure of 600 to 650 Members, on no evidence. That is unreasonable.
This is an unprecedented position. No money resolution has been agreed for my hon. Friend’s Bill, yet other Bills behind it have had theirs. All the Bill would do is correct the erroneous instructions to the Boundary Commission. Will the Leader of the House confirm whether the Government are trying to reduce the effectiveness of the legislature as against the overpowering Executive? Will there be a reduction in the payroll vote of MPs? In what circumstances would it be unusual for a money resolution not to follow a Second Reading? If there are no abnormal circumstances in this case, when will one be granted on this important Bill, which goes to the heart of our democracy and the representation of our constituents?
I understand that the hon. Lady would like the money resolution to be brought forward. She often stands at the Dispatch Box and calls for debates. I should point out that the Government have listened and aimed to bring forward debates on subjects where the Opposition have prayed against statutory instruments. We have also brought forward important debates on subjects such as anti-Semitism and the importance of housing for the next generation. The Government have listened carefully and brought forward proposals from right hon. and hon. Members across the House.
The same is true of private Members’ Bills. We have brought forward money resolutions for three Bills so far. Some very important Bills are making progress, and we will continue to look at providing money resolutions for all those Bills that require them in the usual way and on a case-by-case basis. It is simply not true that this is unprecedented. It is for the Government to decide when to bring forward money resolutions. As my hon. Friend the Constitution Minister has made clear, it is right that we allow the Boundary Commission to report its recommendations before carefully considering how to proceed with this Bill.
Is the Leader of the House as delighted as I am about the progress of important private Members’ Bills such as those dealing with assaults on emergency workers? Does not this show how committed the Government are to bringing forward and supporting such Bills where they have the support of the whole House?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. Strong progress is being made on a number of Bills, including Bills being brought forward by Opposition Members, such as the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), which has completed all its Commons stages and is now in the other place.
The refusal to give this money resolution demonstrates the massive disrespect that this Government have for the democratic arrangements of this House. Withholding money resolutions like this is just about the lowest of the low; it is a tactic to thwart the democratic progress of Bills that have been passed in this House. And this is not just about the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill; other excellent Bills have been thwarted too, including the excellent Bill from my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) on refugees. When the House has decided on these matters, it is the duty, responsibility and obligation of the Government to honour the wishes of the House.
The Leader of the House has repeated that it is a matter for the Government to give money resolutions to private Members’ Bills. Let us take this out of the hands of the Government. Surely it should be an automatic function that a Bill gets a money resolution if it is passed by this House. If she is convinced of her arguments, particularly about boundaries, she should bring them to the House. Let us have a debate on the Floor of the House. Let the Government tell us why they think it is good to cut the number of Members of Parliament when Brexit is coming and the demand on Members will be higher. Let them tell us why they think it is right to have more cronies and donors in the House of Lords while cutting the number of Members of this House. Let us hear the Government’s case. Is not this just about the worst possible example of this House taking back control?
Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman disregards the conventions of this House, as he often does. The financial initiative—[Interruption.] The financial initiative of the Crown is a basic constitutional principle, which means that it is for the Government of the day to initiate financial resolutions. That is a long-standing constitutional principle set out in “Erskine May”, and he must respect that. I can say to him that 13 private Members’ Bills have passed Second Reading and, of those 13 Bills, one has completed all stages in this House and passed to the Lords and three further Bills have received money resolutions and completed their Committee stages. Those include important Bills such as the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill, the Mental Health Units (Use Of Force) Bill and the Prisons (Interference With Wireless Telegraphy) Bill. There is plenty of time left in this extended Session, and further money resolutions will be brought forward in the usual way.
My hon. Friend has the Commons remaining stages of his Bill tomorrow. I know that the Bill has enormous support across the House. It will really make a difference to parents who have been bereaved. It carries a great deal of support and the Government were delighted to bring forward the money resolution for the Bill and will be delighted to see the remaining stages being debated tomorrow.
I have to challenge the Leader of the House on her exposition of the constitutional principles at stake here. She seems to forget that this House has a role in the execution of the Executive’s duties in this regard. That is why, every time we have a Budget, a Finance Bill follows it, as sure as night follows day. The purpose of the Government having the power to bring forward a money resolution is to give effect to the will of Parliament, not to thwart it.
Hon. Members are trying to suggest that the Government are unreasonably withholding money resolutions on a permanent basis, but I have been absolutely clear that they will be brought forward by the Government on a case-by-case basis as necessary. I have tried to explain that the reason that one has not been brought forward for this particular Bill is that the Government have a manifesto commitment to consider the review by the Boundary Commission for England, and we will then consider the right timing for this money resolution.
The Leader of the House has detailed the unusually long list of ballot Bills that are queuing to get into Committee, including the excellent Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill in my name. As well as giving clarity on money resolutions, when will she announce the additional sitting Fridays? Is it fit for purpose in 2018 that only one private Member’s Bill can be in Committee at a time and that such Committees can sit only on Wednesdays, meaning that many private Members’ Bills will inevitably fail? Is it not time we sorted out the whole system so that private Members’ Bills get the attention they deserve?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his private Member’s Bill. The House has approved 13 sitting Fridays for this Session and, as I have said:
“Given…this will be an extended Session, we will…expect to provide additional days”.—[Official Report, 17 July 2017; Vol. 627, c. 636.]
In line with Standing Orders, remaining stages of Bills will be prioritised over Second Reading debates on any additional days provided for private Members’ Bills. There are still a number of remaining stages Fridays available for Bills coming out of Committee. The dates available to Members stretch through to 23 November 2018, so at this stage there is no urgency in providing additional days for private Members’ Bills. In fact, tabling a motion later in the current Session will allow us to take into account the progress of private Members’ Bills, as well as of any new recess dates that are announced.
The hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar is gesticulating in a mildly eccentric fashion. My interpretation of his strange hand signals is that he is indicating a desire to catch an aeroplane. We acknowledge that fact and wish him well on his journey. We would not want to deny him the opportunity to expatiate.
Not just one aeroplane but a second aeroplane on to Benbecula, too. Hence the nerves.
Many people watching will think of this as quite archaic. Money resolutions should really follow automatically. It is also archaic that private Members’ Bills have to queue to go into Committee. It is time to modernise the process. We should not be having this urgent question. Night should follow day, as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) said, and money resolutions should come forward, especially for the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill to give child refugees the same rights as adult refugees.
My right hon. Friend suggests that the Government will wait until the boundary commissions have reported, which I understand will be in September or October. Does she intend to wait until after that before granting any further money resolutions so that Bills can make progress in this House?
The Leader of the House did not answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) on whether the Government can confirm that they have no plans to cut the number of MPs on their payroll. Can the Leader of the House confirm that the result will be a more powerful Executive and a smaller legislature?
I reiterate that the Boundary Commission for England began the 2018 parliamentary boundary review in 2016 and is due to report its final recommendations to Government later this year. The Government have a manifesto commitment to continue with the boundary review, which is what we are doing. We will await the Boundary Commission’s recommendations, and we will then consider tabling a money resolution on the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill at that point.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) on securing the urgent question. He has raised this issue in such a gentle way, but if I had been in his place, I would have been exploding at the Government at the moment. They have said, in answer to the Procedure Committee:
“It is the practice of the Government to accede to such requests.”
No ifs and buts there. What we are seeing here is not a debate about democracy; I say, with some trepidation, that this is an abuse of Parliament by this Government. They do not like the Bill, so they are using a procedural tactic which breaks all convention. The Leader of the House has been sent to the wicket not only without a bat, but without pads or a helmet. I cannot say that she does not believe what she is saying, but I believe that if she was free from collective responsibility she would be on our side. I urge her at business questions to follow to grant the money resolution.
As I understand it, the Leader of the House is meant to be the House’s representative in Cabinet. I hate to burst her bubble, but the Conservative party did not win the general election and there was nothing in its manifesto about passing a bung to the Democratic Unionist party to prop it up on the boundary review. May I ask the Leader of the House, most sincerely, what representations she is making to Cabinet and to the Government to make sure that the will of this House is granted and the money resolution tabled?
I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that it is extraordinary that he thinks that this Government did not win the general election, because this is the Government and this Government are winning votes. This Government are taking charge of running the country, in full collaboration right across the House with all right hon. and hon. Members, to ensure that we take all views into account. That is what I undertook to do as Leader of the House of Commons and it is what I do every day.
As a former Lord Commissioner and officer of Her Majesty’s Household, I know exactly how inconvenient and unhelpful the happy thoughts of private Members’ Bills can be, and this one is no exception. The answer has to be to turn up on a Friday and vote against them, not to deny them a money resolution.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comments. I absolutely agree that private Members’ Bills are a matter for Fridays and parliamentary voting, but it is also a constitutional principle that the Government bring forward money resolutions and do so on a case-by-case basis. I will continue to make those announcements at business questions in the usual way.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for the fact that we eventually got a money resolution for the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill, but that was only after a seven-week delay, during which time the Government repeatedly promised that the money resolution would be laid. The Committee to consider the Bill was convened but had to be cancelled or adjourned at short notice because the money resolution had not been laid. On one occasion, the Government claimed pressure of business, even though on the relevant date the House had adjourned early because of a lack of business. This is disrespectful, not only to the House, but to interested parties outside it, who are keenly following the progress of these Bills. One would normally associate pantomimes with Christmas, but the Government treated us to one this Easter. Surely this is no way to run the business of the House.
It is a bit of a shame the hon. Gentleman does not celebrate, as all Members should, the fact that the Committee stage is now complete for his Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill, which is an important piece of legislation. The money resolution was brought forward; his private Member’s Bill is making progress; and, with the support of the House, he can hope to see it come into law.
I know it is inconvenient for Her Majesty’s Government, but the right of individual Members to initiate legislation is a precious one, and it is denied to MPs in many other Parliaments around the world. If I may say so, the Leader of the House may be confusing the tabling of a money resolution with its decision in the House. As the representative of the House in Cabinet, surely it should be the Leader of the House’s role to table a money resolution straight after Second Reading has been agreed. It is then up to the House to divide to decide whether that money resolution should be passed. By not even tabling the resolution, she is denying a democratic right to Members of this House.
I say gently to my hon. Friend that the financial initiative of the Crown is a basic constitutional principle; it is for the Government of the day to initiate financial resolutions. It is a long-standing constitutional principle and it is set out in “Erskine May”.
Does the Leader of the House believe that the delays in the granting of money resolutions for private Members’ Bills that have had their Second Reading are a result of the Government’s inefficiency or their incompetence? How long does she believe it is reasonable to wait for a money resolution?
The Leader of the House is trying to defend the indefensible, and I regret that she has been sent in to do that. I urge her, rather than getting bogged down in some constitutional niceties that do not appear to be winning the day, just to agree to grant the money resolution for the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan). That is the clear will of the House, so she should just be done with the matter.
While we are on the point, and before she leaps to her feet, I urge her to resist the call for extra sitting Fridays in this Session. You will know better than me, Mr Speaker, but I think the Standing Orders say that there shall be 13 sitting days on a Friday in a Session—not a minimum of 13, but that there shall be 13. Can we please stick to that particular Standing Order?
My hon. Friend clearly does not agree with all Members. He asserts what all Members think, but then clearly disagrees with what I have heard many Members say, which is that they want further days to discuss private Members’ Bills. That is why it is important that private Members’ Bills have support from the whole House. I absolutely assure my hon. Friend that money resolutions for Bills will be brought forward in the usual way, on a case-by-case basis.
Does this not show up the whole private Members’ Bills system for the farce that it is? It was described as a cruel system in the most recent Procedure Committee report on the matter, which made some fundamental, positive and progressive suggestions for reform, not least that the Backbench Business Committee should allocate some of the time for Bills that genuinely have support throughout the whole House, like we see in progressive Parliaments such as the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood. Will the Leader of the House make time for those proposals to be debated in the House of Commons?
There was a review of private Members’ Bills not very long ago, and the strong view from all parts of the House at the time was that private Members’ Bills do work. Obviously, individual Members have different views, as we have just heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). Different Members have different views about private Members’ Bills, but the Government seek to ensure that when there is strong enough support for private Members’ business, it has the chance to come into law.
Having been drawn in the private Member’s Bill ballot myself, I know the frustration that constituents express when Bills run out of time on Fridays. Surely this additional step, whereby the Government can by procedural means block the unanimous will of this House, can only damage the reputation of politics.
The Leader of the House has continually referred to the fact that the boundary review appeared in the Conservative manifesto last year; should we therefore expect to have Bills on foxhunting and grammar schools introduced in the House on a future date?
The Leader of the House keeps referring to the Boundary Commission’s proposals. Can she tell me when the last census was taken? Can she also tell me how many would be excluded if she continues with the boundary proposals and how that will not be seen as gerrymandering?
Forgive me, it may be a question of very considerable interest, but it is not altogether adjacent to the matter of money resolutions. However, if the Leader of the House wants to give us the benefit of her views on the matter, I am sure that we will all listen with rapt attention.
I take my role of representing Parliament in the Government incredibly seriously. At every Business questions and at every opportunity, I seek to take into account all the views expressed across this House. I can give the hon. Gentleman countless examples of successes there, but what I am simply setting out today is that the money resolution for this particular private Member’s Bill will be brought forward at a later stage, once the review of the Boundary Commission for England has been considered.
I understand what the Leader of the House has just said, but does she not accept that, to the people whom we represent, this will look like she is actually the Cabinet’s representative to the legislature? We need action on this and on so many other private Members’ Bills so that the people whom we represent can truly feel that we are able to represent them on the issues that matter to them.
I think people will be delighted at the progress being made in some very important private Members’ Bills, including Bills to prevent assaults on emergency workers, to provide better support for parents who have been bereaved and to provide better support for those who have mental health problems and are taken into secure units.
I say to the hon. Lady, as I have to plenty of hon. Members now, there is no blocking. The Government bring forward money resolutions on a case-by-case basis. I have sought very courteously to explain why, on this occasion, money resolutions on other private Members’ Bills are coming forward and this one is not at the moment.
I urge the Leader of the House not to trot out the manifesto commitment line, given how many pledges have been dropped already. I remind her that her party does not command a majority in this House, so why does she think that it is okay to override the democratic will of this Chamber?
I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that his party does not command a majority in this House, and that, therefore, what we seek to do in this Parliament is to listen broadly across the House to all the proposals made by right hon. and hon. Members and to accommodate them wherever we can.
It has become quite clear over the past 35 minutes that the Minister has been sent out to defend the indefensible, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) quite rightly said. I urge her to take note of the exchanges that we have had over the past half hour and give a commitment to come back next week, having reflected on those views, with perhaps a slightly different view.
On Wednesday morning, we saw an absurd spectacle. We had a Committee full of hon. Members ready to take on this Bill at its next stage, following overwhelming support on Second Reading, but we were prevented from doing so. We were prevented by a Government who were not brave enough to make the case against it and not secure enough to divide on the matter, so, instead, they hid behind procedure. Does the Leader of the House really think that it is satisfactory for the Government to frustrate the will of the House in this way?
The Minister for the Constitution, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), clearly set out in Committee yesterday that
“the Boundary Commission for England began the 2018 parliamentary boundary review in 2016. It is due to report its final recommendations later this year…it would not, therefore, be appropriate to proceed with the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill…at this time by providing it with a money resolution.”––[Official Report, Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Public Bill Committee, 9 May 2018; c. 5-6.]
This points to a much wider problem with the farcical and outdated system of dealing with private Members’ Bills in this House, including the farcical scenes that we often see on sitting Fridays. More importantly, does the Leader of the House really think that it is appropriate in this day and age that a private Member should have to rely on the patronage and support of the Government to get a private Member’s Bill through Parliament?
I like the Leader of the House a great deal but I think that in this case she is wrong. A little bit of humility about the fact that the Conservatives did not win the general election and did not command a majority for their manifesto would go a long way in this House. There is a clear will in Parliament on what should happen. I hope that the words of the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) will be ringing in the ears of the Leader of the House and that she will come back to the House with a proper money resolution that we can debate.
I am always grateful to the hon. Lady for her interventions and for the measured way in which she puts her points. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers), I always reflect very carefully on all instructions given from this Chamber.