Emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the expectation that the Government brings forward a Money resolution relating to a private Member’s bill which has received a second reading.
Five months on from Second Reading, the Government have yet to bring forward a money resolution on my private Member’s Bill, the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill. This is an abuse of Parliament. The Government are making a mockery of the private Member’s Bill process. They are defying the will of Parliament and going against explicit commitments given to a Select Committee. These are the actions of a weak Government who are hiding behind procedure to avoid a vote they know they cannot win. We will not stand for it. We will fight for democracy, and we will always fight for what is morally and ethically right to serve our people.
It is an established parliamentary convention that the Government bring forward a money resolution on private Members’ Bills that have received a Second Reading. Until recently, the Government largely followed this convention; they are now running roughshod over it.
In 2013, giving evidence to the Procedure Committee when he was Leader of the House of Commons, Andrew Lansley said:
“To my knowledge, Government has provided the money resolutions…whenever we have been asked to do so.”
The Procedure Committee’s 2013 report therefore concluded:
“Government policy is not to refuse a money or ways and means resolution to a bill which has passed second reading.”
During debate on the money resolution for the Access to Medical Treatments (Innovation) Bill, the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences, clearly stated
“I just want to confirm that once the House has given a private Member’s Bill a Second Reading, the convention is that the Government, even when they robustly oppose it, always table a money resolution… Doing so is not a signal of Government support; it is absolutely in line with the convention of the House with all private Members’ Bills, whether we oppose or support them.”—[Official Report, 3 November 2015; Vol. 601, c. 926.]
Absolutely. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Government can table the money resolution but not then have to agree with it.
The Government have changed their line. Last week, the Leader of the House said:
“money resolutions will be brought forward on a case-by-case basis as soon as possible.”—[Official Report, 10 May 2018; Vol. 640, c. 894.]
There is clear water between saying the Government will always table a money resolution and saying that this will be considered on a case-by-case basis. What has changed since 2015? We have had the disastrous 2017 election, when the Government lost their majority.
Let me make some progress and then I will be happy to give way. Too weak to defeat my Bill on a vote, the Government are hiding behind a procedure that they know is wrong. The convention is also that money resolutions are brought forward in the order that Bills pass Second Reading. Members will have seen on today’s Order Paper that the Government have tabled a money resolution for a health and social care Bill. It is the second Bill the Government have leapfrogged over mine. The Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill was given a money resolution at the beginning of May, even though its promoter came out 13th in the ballot, whereas I came out third.
The only logic to when the Government are bringing forward a money resolution is: what will help them avoid challenge? We know many on the Government side are willing to vote against them on my Bill, both for principled reasons and because reducing the number of MPs will mean that some Conservatives will lose their seats—turkeys do not vote for Christmas. Based on the 2017 general election results, 34 Conservative MPs are set to have their seats abolished or to lose to Labour at the next election, with the list including six Cabinet Ministers and six other Ministers. The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), who is in charge of my Bill for the Government, is set to lose her seat to Labour if the current boundary proposals go ahead. The Government’s motives are clear: this is not about principles, but about electoral maths. This is not just happening with my Bill; money resolutions are part of a pattern of this weak Government abusing Parliament to avoid scrutiny and challenge.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the public will see that a money resolution delayed is actually democracy denied to this Chamber?
Last week, the Government made a statement on an Opposition day to crowd out debates on Grenfell and Brexit later in the day. The Government denied the Opposition prior sight of that statement, which ended up being a damning indictment of transport policy. The week before, the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs called out a Minister and officials for being “slippery” and for “playing games” with the Committee on the incredibly serious topic of Windrush. Looking back, some could say that the Government’s evidence to the Procedure Committee now looks slippery. Of course, we also have the ongoing scandal of the Government first refusing to vote and then refusing to act on Opposition day motions. In Grenfell, Brexit and Windrush, we are talking about the defining issues of our day, yet even on those, this weak Government are comfortable abusing parliamentary procedure to avoid scrutiny and challenge.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and I completely agree with it. Does this not point to a much wider issue, which is the ridiculous process we have to go through on private Members’ Bill in this House? Is it not time we had a private Members’ Bills process where Bills could not be blocked by filibustering or by the whim of the Government?
I agree with my hon. Friend.
My Bill cuts right to the heart of our democracy. The number of MPs who represent our country affects our ability to represent constituents, their ability to hold us accountable, and Back Benchers’ ability to hold the Executive to account. That outcome cannot be dictated by party politics—
If the hon. Gentleman will wait, I will cover that point.
That outcome cannot be dictated by party politics, yet from the beginning the Government have sought to use boundary changes to gerrymander the political map in their party’s favour. The Conservatives stand to win a greater proportion of the seats in a smaller Parliament.
Let me make some progress; I will give way again later.
The Conservatives stand to benefit from disenfranchising the 2 million people who have registered to vote since 2015, some 700,000 of whom are young people under 30. The power of the Executive will be enhanced by cutting the number of MPs without reducing the number of Ministers.
Political parties are important, but partisanship is fracturing our democracy. We can all agree that a boundary review is long overdue. My Bill is a serious attempt to come to a cross-party consensus to find a way forward that is workable and that has the support of the House. The proposals should be debated and scrutinised in Committee, not decided in the back rooms of Government offices.
We have three hours for this debate; let me put my case, and then we will debate.
In outright disregard for democracy, this minority Government are abusing their Executive power to defy the will of the House. My private Member’s Bill passed its Second Reading unanimously. Since then, the support that I have received from all parts of the House has been remarkable. During the recent urgent question on this subject, Opposition parties were united in calling for the Government to bring forward a money resolution. The shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), called this “an unprecedented position.” The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) from the Scottish National party called it
“a tactic to thwart the democratic progress of Bills that have been passed in this House.”—[Official Report, 10 May 2018; Vol. 640, c. 897.]
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) condemned the Government’s actions, saying:
“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.”—[Official Report, 10 May 2018; Vol. 640, c. 898.]
It was even more extraordinary to watch Conservative Members line up to dress down their own Government’s Minister. One after another, they accused the Government of carrying out “an abuse of Parliament”; of “denying a democratic right” of Parliament; of breaching undertakings they had given to the Procedure Committee; and of sending out the Leader of the House to “defend the indefensible”. As the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) put it, the Government sent the Leader of the House
“to the wicket not only without a bat, but without pads or a helmet.”—[Official Report, 10 May 2018; Vol. 640, c. 900.]
Mr Speaker, you have been extremely clear on your position that the Government should bring forward a money resolution and impose some “logic and reasonableness” on the process. Despite the clear and overwhelming will of the House, the Government have still not introduced a money resolution. The role of the Leader of the House is to represent the House in Cabinet; up till now, her behaviour has been much more like that of the Cabinet’s representative in the House. Several times, the Leader of the House and other Ministers have referred to the Conservative manifesto pledge to continue with the boundary review. Of course, that manifesto did not win the Conservatives a majority in this House. For a minority Government to defy the will of the House in this way is deeply undemocratic.
Another pledge in the 2017 manifesto was to address the size of the House of Lords. Over the weekend, the Government tried to bury the news that they were appointing nine Tory peers. Unlock Democracy was right in accusing the Government of cowering in the shade. That has been widely reported as a move to prevent more defeats in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. It seems that the Prime Minister is willing to keep to the letter of her manifesto when it is politically convenient and to abandon other pledges when it is not.
Defying the will of the House is an abuse of Executive power. Their power to bring money resolutions comes from the financial initiative of the Crown—the Leader of the House referred to that initiative to defend the Government last week. It is deeply disingenuous to claim that they are blocking my Bill for financial reasons. Under this Government, boundary changes have always been an issue of electoral maths. How can my Bill be a financial issue when the Prime Minister has just appointed 13 additional peers with all their associated costs? She is increasing the size of the unelected House of Lords, while cutting MPs in the elected Commons. She pays lip service to cutting the cost of politics, but will ultimately do whatever is in her party’s interest.
In conclusion, it is perhaps no surprise that, the weaker the Government, the lower they will stoop to avoid defeat. In refusing to bring a money resolution for a private Member’s Bill, the Government are trampling on parliamentary procedure, defying the will of the House and abusing their Executive power in pursuit of their electoral interests. The Bill will uphold the importance of checks and balances. We have been elected to serve the people, not ourselves. Those are the basic principles of modern democracy. Partisan gerrymandering is becoming only more pervasive. I urge the Government to make a meaningful change. I encourage the Leader of the House to go back to her colleagues in the Cabinet and bring a money resolution to the House before our Committee meets again on Wednesday. This weak Government’s motives are transparent. They are not fooling anyone.
I welcomed the opportunity to respond to the urgent question asked by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) two weeks ago, when I set out the Government’s approach to money resolutions. I welcome the opportunity to respond again today.
First, I take my responsibilities to this House very seriously. As you said last week, Mr Speaker, we have a responsibility to safeguard the rights of the House and, as Leader of the House, I seek to do exactly that, treating all Members of Parliament with courtesy and respect. I hope and expect that all right hon. and hon. Members will do likewise. I seek to demonstrate day in, day out that my role as Parliament’s representative in the Government is a duty that is at the heart of all I do. Following the many requests I have received from across the House during this Session, the Government have scheduled debates on vital subjects such as baby loss awareness, housing and anti-Semitism. This week, I am making time available for a debate on serious violence following many calls to debate that vital issue.
We have scheduled more negative statutory instruments for debate on the Floor of the House than any Government in any Session since 1997. We continue to provide Opposition and Back-Bench days in line with Standing Orders. We are providing support to more than 20 very important private Members’ Bills that will make a difference to the lives of people across the country, including the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed); and the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill, introduced by the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck). I have been working hard with colleagues right across the House to bring forward proposals on a new, independent complaints and grievances policy, safeguarding parliamentarians and staff alike to make this a Parliament that we can all be proud to work in, and to ensure that this is a place where people are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve.
The hon. Gentleman will fully appreciate that the Government never ignore the resolutions of this House. I will come to the specifics of the reason for not allowing a money resolution on the private Member’s Bill of the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton.
I endorse what the Leader of the House says about treating colleagues with respect, but she is unwittingly making the argument just made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan). Almost nothing that she is talking about requires a vote that is binding on the Government. The trend is the same; the Government are running away from anything on which they have to have a vote, and that is exactly what is happening with the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will realise that that is simply not true. There have been countless votes. Many Bills are already going through this place and several have received Royal Assent. There is a great deal of activity in this Chamber and in the other place. We continue to respect views right across this Chamber, and to adapt and amend legislation in order to improve it wherever possible. This Government are showing the greatest of respect to all parliamentarians.
May I ask the Leader of the House a very direct question that was posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan)? The convention of Parliament is that the money resolution has to be tabled once a private Member’s Bill has had its Second Reading. Second Reading of this Bill happened five months ago, so why has this not happened?
The hon. Lady will be aware that it is for the Government to initiate financial resolutions to commit taxpayers’ money. It is not without precedent not to bring forward a money resolution when the Government believe that it is not in the taxpayers’ interest to do so at the time. I will explain that further later.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton has been quite strong in his language, talking of an abuse of Parliament and accusing the Government of acting in a profoundly undemocratic way. Well, I would strongly put it to him that the Conservative party has done more to support Back-Bench Members than any other in recent history. The Backbench Business Committee was established in 2010, following a commitment in the Conservative manifesto. This has been a much welcomed and successful change. Elections to Select Committees have been introduced. E-petitions have been a huge success, with the Government responding to 125 of them and 22 having already been debated in this Session. We should all be willing to recognise the achievements of the Conservative party in honouring and respecting Parliament. I could go on, but I think I have made the point.
Week in and week out, I raise matters on behalf of Members from all parties with my colleagues in the Government. I assure the House that this will continue.
My right hon. Friend is a superb Leader of the House. Of course she makes our representations to the Government, but unfortunately the Government do not necessarily agree. A money resolution should have been provided for the referendum Bill; two wrongs do not make a right.
I always listen very carefully to the views of my hon. Friend, but I am afraid that I must again draw all hon. Members’ attention to the fact that, as set out in “Erskine May”, it is for the Government of the day to initiate financial resolutions, of which this is one.
I want to make a bit of progress and then I will give way some more.
I now turn to private Members’ Bills specifically. It is absolutely right that Back-Bench Members promote legislation on causes that they and their constituents believe in. However, as Winston Churchill once said:
“Not every happy thought which occurs to a Member of Parliament should necessarily find its way on to the statute book.”
Changes to the law are achieved by way of private Members’ Bills, but it is an important principle that they should make progress only when the ideas behind them have been thoroughly debated and Members are able to win sufficient support from right across these Benches. I gently remind the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton that it is for the Government of the day to initiate financial resolutions. That is not new, it is not unusual, and it is clearly a constitutional right set out in “Erskine May”. I now give way to the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff).
I want to come on to talk about some of the excellent PMBs that are finding their way through—[Interruption.] In specific response to the hon. Lady, money resolutions are brought forward at the appropriate time, and it is for the Government of the day to initiate those money resolutions.
As a member of the Public Bill Committee, I listened carefully to what the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), said. She did not say that the Government would never bring forward the money resolution. She said that she thought it appropriate given the Boundary Commission’s work, which is quite a long way down the road, to wait until it produced its reports to Parliament and the Government would then reflect further. That seems to me to be a perfectly sensible course of action that should command widespread support in the House.
My right hon. Friend is exactly right. The Government have decided not to bring forward a money resolution for the time being, but we will keep this under review and will continue to bring forward money resolutions at the appropriate moment.
Many excellent PMBs are currently being taken through Parliament. In the current Session, over 150 have been introduced so far and 13 of them have passed Second Reading. Of those 13 Bills, two have completed all stages in this House and have passed to the Lords. Two further Bills have also received money resolutions and completed Committee stage, and they will have their remaining stages over the next few weeks. Hon. Members will be pleased to note that there is a money resolution for the Health and Social Care (National Data Guardian) Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), on the Order Paper for debate later today.
I would like to draw the House’s attention to the number of PMBs that the Conservatives have supported since 2010. Fifty-three private Members’ Bills have achieved Royal Assent since then, and we expect many more to do so over the course of this Session. That is in stark contrast with Labour, which, in the 2005 Parliament, supported fewer than half that number to achieving Royal Assent. Just 22 Bills made it to the statute book on Labour’s watch.
I have endured sitting through two inquiries into private Members’ Bills as a member of the Procedure Committee. It is clear that private Members’ Bills get through only if the Government choose that they should get through. The whole system is dysfunctional. There are a hundred ways in which the Government could choose to kill a private Member’s Bill; they happen to be choosing the money resolution route this time. Would it not be more honest for them just to say, “We do not agree with this Bill”? They need to redesign the entire system, because it is dysfunctional and it misleads the public.
I have to say respectfully that I disagree with the hon. Lady. I have read very carefully the reports of the Procedure Committee as they pertain to private Members’ Bills. I sympathise with her on sitting through those Committees; I am quite sure that they had their moments. The Government seek to ensure that all Back-Bench Members get the opportunity to bring forward legislation that matters a great deal to them and their constituents. Having considered proposals from the Procedure Committee, we now have a good way for Members to have the maximum opportunity to create new law.
As I say, 53 private Members’ Bills have received Royal Assent since 2010. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in wishing Members well as their private Members’ Bills progress, and I would like to highlight what some of those legislative changes will achieve. First, I commend the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for working with Ministers and colleagues right across the House so that his Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill can make progress. That is a vital Bill, with wide support. The measures in it demonstrate to the public and to the criminal justice system that assaults on emergency workers will be dealt with seriously.
I thank the Leader of the House, and I am enormously grateful to the Government Whip who was enormously helpful in getting my Bill to this stage, but I do not think the Leader of the House should pray me in aid on what the Government are doing. I want her to clarify precisely what she said to the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper). Is she saying that the Government might bring forward a money resolution if, for instance, the House were to vote down the Boundary Commission’s recommendations? From the Second Reading debate, it seems pretty likely that that is what will happen.
I will clarify what I said to my right hon. Friend. We will keep the money resolution under review, and once we have seen the existing boundary review’s recommendations and been able to consider them, we will think carefully about what to do next with this private Member’s Bill. It is by no means blocked, but at the moment the Government are considering how to take it forward.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way. This seems rather straightforward. Parliament enacted a boundary review, which is currently in progress and will report in the autumn. To grant public money to start another boundary review would be grossly irresponsible of the House, when the money required by that proposal is the equivalent of 300 new nurses.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. The point is that this Bill involves duplication, which cannot be supported because of the cost that it would impose on the taxpayer.
Secondly, I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) for his work in bringing forward the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill. The Government were pleased to bring forward a money resolution, which was then passed by the House. That Bill will provide much-needed support to bereaved parents, so that they can take time away from work to grieve when suffering the unimaginable loss of a child. I commend the all-party parliamentary group on baby loss for all its work on that matter.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon North on the progress of his Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill, which will require the publishing of data on how and when force is used and improve oversight and training. The money resolution for that Bill was tabled by the Government and approved last month. I also commend my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), whose Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill will allow public communications providers such as mobile network operators to be authorised directly to prevent, detect or investigate the use of illicit mobile phones in prisons. The money resolution for that Bill was approved by the House just three weeks ago.
As I mentioned, the money resolution for the Health and Social Care (National Data Guardian) Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough, has now been tabled and will be debated later today. I congratulate him on his work on that important Bill, which will establish a statutory office holder to be known as the data guardian for health and social care. I pay tribute to all those Members for their tireless work on PMBs and for the way in which they have engaged constructively to secure cross-party support.
There can be no better example of cross-party working and collegiate effort than the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill, brought forward by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil). When will we see the money resolution for that Bill?
We will bring forward money resolutions on a case-by-case basis. I have just given a thorough run-through of the Bills that have received money resolutions and those that are about to do so, and all others are under consideration, to be brought forward on a case-by-case basis.
Let me now turn to the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill. I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton on having the good fortune to be drawn third in the private Members’ Bill ballot and on having the opportunity to introduce his Bill, but let me reiterate what my hon. Friend the Minister for the Constitution said in Committee on 9 May and what I said to the House in response to the urgent question on 10 May, and then I will set out further detail of our approach to his Bill.
The boundary commissions began the 2018 parliamentary boundary review in 2016 and are due to report their final recommendations to the Government later this year. The reforms brought about by the review will ensure fair and equal representation for the voting public across the United Kingdom by the next general election. Equalising the size of constituencies in the boundary review will ensure that everyone’s vote will carry equal weight and will significantly reduce the cost of politics to the taxpayer. Without such boundary reforms, MPs could end up representing constituencies based on data that are over 20 years old, disregarding significant changes in demographics, house building and migration. As it stands, some constituencies have twice as many electors as others, and this simply cannot be right.
I will give way in a moment.
The commissions have been carrying out some incredibly important work. Initial proposals have been published and there has been a 12-week consultation on them, including regional public hearings. There were 36 public hearings across all regions in England, while Scotland and Wales each held five hearings and Northern Ireland held four, and these responses were then published. The review also involved a four-week period to allow counter-representations to be submitted in response to the consultation. The boundary commissions considered the consultation responses and the counter-representations, and all four boundary commissions then published revised proposals, followed by a written-only consultation of eight weeks. I am sure many hon and right hon. Members will have taken the opportunity to feed in their views.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way, but she knows, as does every Member of this House, that the boundary review will be based on information about the electorate that is years out of date, so why not scrap it and do it on the basis of the current electoral register?
As I have sought to explain, a lot of work, taxpayers’ money and consideration have gone into a boundary commissions review that will significantly update the information on the basis of which boundaries are set. It is important to allow the review to be completed, and if I may continue, I will provide the hon. Lady with a further explanation.
The Government have committed to continuing this boundary review, and it is important that we allow the boundary commissions to carry out this work, of which much has already been completed, and we will then consider the findings carefully. Given the need to hear the commissions’ conclusions and the fact that a lot of work has already been carried out at a significant cost to the taxpayer, it would not be appropriate to proceed with the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill at this time by providing it with a money resolution.
My right hon. Friend is making a very good case. My constituents would find it absolutely absurd if the Government committed money to another boundary review without concluding the one that the public voted for in 2015 and committed to again at the last general election in 2017.
My hon. Friend explains the situation very clearly, and he is quite right. Our constituents would not expect us to initiate a new boundary review before we finished the existing one.
The Government have a constitutional duty to initiate financial resolutions in this place, and we are accountable to the people of the United Kingdom for the financial impact of such resolutions. Progressing with this private Member’s Bill might place a financial burden on taxpayers of an additional £8 million.
The Leader of the House talks about a constitutional duty. Does she not think that the Government have a constitutional duty to the 2.1 million people who are not on the electoral register and are therefore not included in this review, and a constitutional duty to do right by the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan)?
The Leader of the House’s constitutional duty is to be Parliament’s representative in the Cabinet. Parliament voted overwhelmingly to proceed with this Bill. What representations did she make in the Cabinet to defend the Bill and promote the money resolution that Parliament had voted for?
The Leader of the House is making it very clear that this is a question of timing as much as anything else. There are only about 12 sitting weeks before we are due to receive the boundary commissions’ report. It seems enormously premature for the Opposition to demand that the money resolution is tabled now rather than waiting 12 weeks.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. It is vital that we always keep a close eye on value for taxpayers. As I have said, progressing with this particular private Member’s Bill would place a potential financial burden of £8 million on taxpayers. The Opposition may believe that it is perfectly fine to spend this amount of public money on a further boundary review, but, given that we have already committed to the 2018 boundary review, the Government cannot support such extra cost to the taxpayer at this point. With one review under way, plus an incomplete review from a previous Parliament, this review would be the third and would push the total cost of reviewing boundaries towards £18 million. I am sure that many constituents of the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton would share our concern at any further unnecessary expenditure of taxpayers’ money.
The other private Members’ Bills in this Session also of course have costs attached, but they are costs associated with unique legislation, not that replicated elsewhere. As I have made clear many times, the Government will keep this private Member’s Bill under review, but it is right that we should allow the boundary commissions to report their recommendations before carefully considering how to proceed.
I am sorry, but the right hon. Lady is talking complete nonsense. Is it not a fact that the Government could lay the money resolution now? The idea that that money would be spent is absolute rubbish, and as for the idea that the Bill will somehow go ahead, would it not be a suitable back-up if the boundary commissions’ review were to fall?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is not only a significant amount of money but that it creates great uncertainty for the current boundary commissions process, so if the Bill were passed, it would be hugely destabilising for the boundary review and, far from making a better situation, would kick the entire issue into the long grass yet again?
The Leader of the House has mentioned a figure of £8 million. I wonder how many hours of graft by our constituents it would take to generate the taxes to pay for that incremental review. Certainly the constituents of those of us on this side of the House would never forgive us if we enacted something to pay for something we did not need and that was not desired.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, contrary to what we have heard from Opposition Members, this is about money? My hospital in Worcestershire is due to receive £29 million from the Government. Does the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) think that my constituents should not have their hospital so that he can have his political project?
May I assure my right hon. Friend that I have not had a single email, tweet, Facebook message, letter, or any other form of epistle calling for a money resolution on this Bill, but that I receive correspondence on an hourly basis calling for us to show prudence with taxpayers’ money?
I can say exactly the same to my hon. Friend. I have not received any representations on this matter from members of the public either. I am quite sure that, if they found out what the Bill proposes to spend on replicating an existing review, they would not be best pleased.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that for once the indignation of those on the Labour Benches is not synthetic? They are trying to keep an unfair electoral distribution, which the boundary review is looking at so that we can actually have a fair distribution of numbers across constituencies. As it happens, that would disadvantage the Labour party. All Opposition Members are trying to do is delay the proper democratic boundary commission process for their own party advantage.
My right hon. Friend rightly points to the fact that we are seeking to ensure equal representation. That is at the heart of the boundary review and it is quite right that we should do that.
Some Members have argued that the decision is unprecedented and that money resolutions should follow Second Reading as night follows day, but I am afraid that that is not the case. Previous Governments have had to take similar action and for similar reasons that are in play with this particular Bill. For example, in a previous Parliament the Government declined to bring forward a money resolution, and the Minister at the time said:
“I am sorry to tell the Committee that we have been led to the conclusion that there are such major difficulties of principle involved and such operational costs seem likely to be incurred as to outweigh the benefits and we are consequently unable to support the Bill.”
During the 2014-15 Session, the coalition Government decided not to bring forward money resolutions for two Bills. At the time, the then Leader of the House said:
“it is unusual but not unprecedented for the Government not to move a money resolution. There have been previous instances of that under Governments of different parties.”—[Official Report, 30 October 2014; Vol. 587, c. 417.]
In conclusion, I have sought to explain why the Government do not plan to table a money resolution at this time for this particular Bill. This action is not without precedent and we welcome the good progress that is being made by a number of other private Members’ Bills. I also want to assure all hon. and right hon. Members of my own personal commitment to representing Parliament within Government. I am dedicated to championing and safeguarding the role of this House and all its Members, whether through its work in improving legislation, representing constituents or holding the Government fully to account for their actions.
I have outlined the steps I have taken and will continue to take to ensure that the House has the opportunity to debate and scrutinise the key issues that affect people across the UK. I make a commitment today that I will continue to uphold the rights of this House and continue to listen to the views expressed by all Members, no matter on which side of the House they sit. Importantly, whether in this Chamber or outside it, I will continue to treat all hon. and right hon. Members with respect and courtesy, as befits the hundreds of years of democratic tradition in this place.
I thank the Leader of the House for what she has said. I hope she will listen to what I have to say, too.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) made the application for an emergency debate. Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing the debate, which is about the will of the House. You have always been a champion of Parliament and I know you will continue to be so. I am disappointed that my hon. Friend has had to take up the time of the House, when we would much prefer to be debating the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and other important Bills from the other place.
My first point is: what has brought us here? My hon. Friend made representations to me as shadow Leader of the House. He was perplexed as to why his important Bill was stuck in a queue, on call waiting. As the Leader of the House will know, I had to raise this important issue with her in three consecutive business questions—on 3 May, 10 May and 17 May. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) raised it in a point of order on 3 May, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton on 9 May as well as in an urgent question on 10 May. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) also raised it at business questions last week, but unfortunately the Leader of the House has failed to appropriately address the issue and respond to our pleas.
The lack of a money resolution affects not just my hon. Friend but a number of hon. Members across the House. Right hon. and hon. Members have taken the time to introduce their private Members’ Bills to Parliament. They are not, as the Leader of the House quotes Winston Churchill, “happy thoughts”; they go through a process and a procedure. Right hon. and hon. Members are pleased when their Bills have a reading and it is a testament to the importance of their Bills that they have passed Second Reading—that is the will of the House.
The following Bills are awaiting a money resolution: the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill from the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton); the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill from the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson); the Overseas Electors Bill from the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies); the Parking (Code of Practice) Bill from the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight); and the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill from the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil)—I cannot pronounce his constituency as well as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) did. Those are all important Bills that have not had their money resolution.
The second point that I want to raise is on practice and procedure. Why do we have that? So that there is certainty about the House’s rules. The procedures are there for transparency. It is about fairness. Perhaps the Government like chaos and uncertainty, but there is no benefit to society and this House from chaos and uncertainty. The Leader of the House quotes “Erskine May”, and I will quote it too:
“A money resolution is normally considered immediately after the second reading of the bill to which it relates”.
Once a Bill has received its Second Reading, it cannot be right for the Government to delay money resolutions for such a long period of time. I have previously quoted from the parliamentary website—it is there for the whole world to see. I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton said when he spoke about the evidence given to the Procedure Committee by a previous Leader of the House, and about what a former Minister—the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman)—said: it is about conventions. That Minister said that providing a money resolution
“is not a signal of Government support; it is absolutely in line with the convention of the House”.—[Official Report, 3 November 2015; Vol. 601, c. 926.]
The quotation that the hon. Lady gives from “Erskine May” on the provision of money resolutions immediately after Second Reading has never been applied to private Members’ Bills. They have always got it at a later date; it is only Government Bills that get the money resolution immediately afterwards.
That is a matter that we need to take up with the writers of “Erskine May”, but nevertheless, it is there. This is about interpretation and that is what it says.
Of the private Members’ Bills in need of a money resolution, the Bill from my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton is the only Bill that received its Second Reading in 2017 and has yet to have a money resolution agreed. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) is lucky: his Health and Social Care (National Data Guardian) Bill had its Second Reading on the same day—1 December 2017—but after my hon. Friend’s Bill, and it has been given its money resolution today. However, the whole point about procedures, processes and conventions is that Members should not have to be lucky. It should not have to be granted at the whim of the Government. There should be certainty.
The hon. Lady will know that the Procedure Committee has come up with two excellent reports in the past four years on how to reform private Members’ Bills. These reports have been resisted by the Whips Offices on both sides of the House. Does she think we should have another go?
I appreciate the hard work the hon. Gentleman does on the Procedure Committee, but sadly it is not up to me; I wish it were—I would like to support him.
Thirdly, how do the measures in the Bill differ from the Government’s instructions to the boundary commissions? What would the Bill actually do? It was the ninth Bill of the Session presented and passed its Second Reading by an overwhelming 229 to 44 votes on 1 December. It is an important Bill because it would give instructions to the boundary commissions different from the previous constrained instructions. It would do several things to those constrained instructions. Clause 1 would alter the change in the size of the House of Commons made by the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 from 600 to 650 Members and provide a fixed allocation of 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland, with the remaining 632 in Great Britain. Six hundred is an arbitrary figure. Where is the evidence that the number of constituencies should be reduced to 600?
Clause 2 would change the current UK-wide requirement for constituencies, excluding the four island seats, to be within plus or minus 5% of the electoral quota and establish new quotas, one for Great Britain and one for Northern Ireland. In each case, there would be a requirement for constituencies to be within plus or minus 7.5% of the relevant electoral quota.
The hon. Lady says that 600 is an arbitrary number, but so is 650. However, there is an important difference: 600 is not an arbitrary number; it is the number that Parliament put into law for a boundary review that it legislated for in 2011. Is it not right that we allow the boundary commissions to finish their work so that the House can consider their reports before deciding what steps to take next?
It is an arbitrary figure—it was plucked out of thin air without reference to any evidence. It might have been agreed by the House, but there was no evidence. The Bill would retain the status quo. It would also require the quota to be based on the total number of voters derived from registers of parliamentary electors published for the 2017 general election, or the most recent election thereafter. This would allow the 2.1 million electors registered after 1 December 2015 to be included in the review.
On the hon. Lady’s point about using the register from the last general election, if the Bill were to go through and further delay matters—it might be another two years before proposals or policies come forward—would she still want to use a register that by then would be three or four years old?
This is the most current register—and the 2.1 million people left off the existing register have to be included—but the Bill says that the register from the most recent election should be used.
The Bill would allow the 2.1 million electors to be included in the review. The Government passed a statutory instrument that many in the House agreed with, allowing people to register to vote right up until Thursday 9 June 2016—for the referendum—so they accept that voting is important, and those 2.1 million people should be counted and have their voices heard.
At the time of the Government’s boundary review, my constituency had 7,000 fewer electors than at the 2017 general election and slightly more than at the referendum. Should we not be using those figures, as my hon. Friend says, otherwise we are denuding my constituency of the ability to be of an equal size to others?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. He makes his point very well. Clause 4 would require the boundary commissions to complete their reports, including in relation to the requirements in clauses 1 to 3, by 1 October 2020 and to report by 1 October every 10th year, rather than every five years, as provided for by the 2011 Act. Giving the boundary commissions 10 years will actually save costs.
I absolutely agree. It will actually save money in the long run.
Responding to me following the urgent question on Thursday 10 May, the Leader of the House said that
“it is right that we allow the Boundary Commission to report its recommendations before carefully considering how to proceed.”—[Official Report, 10 May 2018; Vol. 640, c. 894.]
However, the review is based on a flawed premise. We have had a referendum and we have had a general election, and as a result of our exit from the European Union we have lost further representation by our Members of the European Parliament. The workload of Members of Parliament has increased following local authority cuts and the cuts in advice services: for instance, my local citizens advice bureau has had to cut staff numbers. Members are now having to deal with more cases.
Responding to me during business questions last week, the Leader of the House said:
“The Boundary Commission review will cost taxpayers something in the order of £12 million, and it cannot be right that further money, to the tune of more than £5 million, be made available to a completely separate Bill when that work is under way.”—[Official Report, 17 May 2018; Vol. 641, c. 430.]
However, waiting for the review will cost more money. May I ask the Leader of the House what is the financial impact of waiting for the commission to report? I am sure she will agree that this is about democracy. What price democracy?
The Committee considering my hon. Friend’s Bill has met three times, but has not been able to consider a single clause of it. The Committee is due to meet again on Wednesday 23 May. Will the Leader of the House ensure and expedite the tabling of a money resolution that can be brought to the House? She mentioned that a money resolution for the Bill had been presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed), but I had to raise the matter during business questions, and the Committee had to meet five times before the resolution was granted.
May I ask the Leader of the House again—she did not answer this during business questions—whether there will be a reduction in the number of Ministers? If not, we shall have an overpowering Executive who want to prevent scrutiny by cutting the number of MPs. It is not right for us to have such an overpowering Executive, and it is not right to reduce scrutiny of it.
Finally, let me ask a constitutional question. I do not want to upset people or make them afraid, but some constitutional theorists have suggested that there may be a personal prerogative whereby the monarch does not have to follow the Prime Minister’s advice. An example given during a lecture—perhaps the parliamentary private secretary to the Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), was also at that lecture: she might have been, in 2005—was the gerrymandering of constituencies in the interests of one party, and not in the interests of democracy.
I have nearly finished my speech.
This is a hung Parliament, whose mandate is different from that of 2011. As we say hello to 13 new peers in the other place, we may be saying goodbye to 50 of us. As the numbers in the other place increase, the numbers in this House decrease. According to every definition of a good Parliament and a functioning democracy, that is not acceptable. More than 2 million people have been ignored by this Government. In the interests of procedural certainty, conventions, fairness and democracy, the Government should act now and grant the money resolution.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz). I think it is a pity that the Opposition have conflated the issue of process and procedure with the issue of substance relating to the particular Bill that we are discussing today. On the issue of process and procedure, I absolutely agree with all those who say that we should be having discussions about money resolutions. Obviously the Government can whip against them if they want to, but I suspect that in the case of this Bill, the House would probably support a money resolution. Perhaps that it why they are a bit inhibited about tabling one.
I do not want to be caught up in the discussion about the merits or demerits of the Bill. However, I must say to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that when she was listing all the wonderful private Members’ Bills that are currently before the House, I was very disappointed that she did not refer to one of the 19 that I had tabled for debate on 15 June. I felt that that was a serious omission.
Many of my Bills do not need money resolutions. One of the unintended consequences of this new rule that the Government have adopted is that a well-advised private Member who is successful in the ballot will probably say, “I’m going to go for a Bill that does not need a money resolution, because a Bill with a money resolution faces an additional hurdle.” Let us imagine that a Member wins the ballot and introduces their Bill, but it has probably attracted some awkward customers on Second Reading who disagree with it and want to talk for a long time. The Member will need to have 100 Members present to secure closure; in the past, as night follows day, when they have secured closure and completed Second Reading, they will have a money resolution.
I remember when Austin Mitchell introduced the licensed conveyancing Bill, which was hated by the then Conservative Government and strongly opposed, but the will of the House—I had the pleasure of supporting that Bill—was that that was a really good idea that would loosen up and liberate that rather closed profession of solicitors and enable people to get conveyancing done at less expense. That Bill therefore went through and went on to the statute book and has been a force for good. If the Government had blocked it at the time because they disapproved of it and they had said it needed a money resolution, we would not have had that legislation on the statute book with all the benefits it has brought to consumers.
The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the element of caprice about this. When I came top of the ballot, I asked the public which of several different Bills they might want me to introduce as my No. 1, and fortunately they came up with one that did not need a money resolution, whereas it could just as easily have been the motion taken forward by the third Member on the list about civil partnerships, which would require a money resolution, then I would have been entirely in the hands of the Government. There is an element of caprice that we need to change.
I thought that we did not need to change it, because I thought the convention was that if a Bill secured a Second Reading it would get a money resolution, and that is the disappointment that has come out of this debate.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House says that the Government are now going to look at this on a case-by-case basis, so we now have another layer, basically with the Government—the Executive—saying “We’re going to second-guess Members’ priorities.” It is difficult enough to secure Second Reading for a private Member’s Bill, but once these Bills have done so the order in which they go into Committee is now solely under the control of the Government, because the Government decide whether or not Bills are going to have their blessing on a case-by-case basis.
I am fascinated that my hon. Friend has become such a champion of private Member’s Bills, as he has killed more of them than almost any other Member of this House, and to my mind has played a very useful role in doing so. However, is the Government’s practice not caprice, but constitutional correctness? It is the job of this House to seek redress of grievance while it is the job of the Government to ask for expenditure, and we are at risk of confusing the two?
I agree with my hon. Friend about the rules in relation to expenditure, but it is ultimately for this House to decide what should be spent and what should not, and if the Government wish to test the will of the House on an issue of £8 million there is nothing to stop their doing so. That would be the appropriate way to proceed and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) said, all we are talking about is not that the Government should grant or facilitate a money resolution, but that the opportunity should be given to the House to decide a money resolution—that is the issue.
Turning briefly to the issue of substance, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House makes a big issue of the cost of £8.1 million, but let us compare that with what the Government are doing at the moment. On today’s Order Paper there are two motions that seek to abolish Christchurch Borough Council—I hope that they will be blocked, resulting in in deferred Divisions on Wednesday in which the House will express its disapproval. Today, Christchurch Borough Council launched legal proceedings against the Government on the basis that those motions are retrospective and use secondary legislation to change primary legislation retrospectively. On the basis of that and of leading counsel’s advice, proceedings have begun against the Government. Are the Government, in the light of that, going to try and save money by saying, “Let’s resolve those legal proceedings before proceeding down the route of trying to reorganise local authorities in Dorset”? I fear that the Government response will be that they are not going to do that. The Government again play fast and loose with democracy; in this case, in Christchurch where 84% of local people voted against the proposition, but the Government are seeking to override that and at the same time use their ability to fight against the proceedings brought against them in the courts. They are using taxpayers’ money to do that, delaying the whole process and adding to the costs.
I therefore ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for some consistency. If the Government are worried about spending £8 million on this, why are they not worried about spending many millions of pounds on fighting a fruitless battle against the people of Christchurch in the courts?
I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) on securing this important debate, and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for ensuring that it has been granted. It is unfortunate that we have to have such a debate under Standing Order No. 24, and the way that the Government have responded to it has been, to say the very least, disappointing.
There are lots of things I call the Leader of the House—I call her charming; I call her helpful; I call her a bit Brexitish—but I think she has been less than sensible in the way that she has approached issues to do with money resolutions in the House, and to continue to defy the majority opinion and view of this House consistently and over a period of time does her no credit whatsoever. The House has made a decision on these money resolutions, and it is incumbent upon the Government to ensure that the rules of this House are progressed.
Where we are just now is very disappointing, not just for the important private Member’s Bill of the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, but particularly for that of my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil). There is strong and great cross-party support and consensus right across the House for his Bill and for this matter to be progressed to ensure that his Bill at least gets through.
There has been a pattern to what the Government have been doing since they were elected as a minority Government in 2017, which is their failure to acknowledge that they are a minority Government. They already do not appear to engage properly in Opposition day debates, and they certainly do not vote in the vast majority of them; they have stuffed the Standing Committees of this House with a majority of their Members even though they are a minority Government; they have done their best to ensure that the Democratic Unionist party has been given its £1 billion to ensure some of their legislation gets through; and the way they have dealt with private Members’ Bills is consistent with that approach.
But we are not going to let the Government get in the way of our private Members’ Bills. We should say to this Government loudly and clearly, “Get your grubby hands off our private Members’ Bills, because they are far too important and valuable not just to this House but to our constituents right across this country.” Private Members’ Bills are increasingly valued by our constituents, and they want to see legislation progressed through this mechanism; we increasingly see that reflected in our mailbags.
The arrangements for private Members’ Bills are bad enough, what with being at the mercy of the likes of the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and, although he has changed his coat today, the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) who consistently do what they can to block and filibuster on such Bills. Instead of thwarting private Members’ Bills, it is incumbent upon everybody in this House to ensure that they are properly enabled and supported, because they show this House at its very best.
All of us in this House have a passing interest in ensuring that private Members’ Bills are dealt with properly, because we all want to be champions of private Members’ Bills; we would all like that little bit of a legacy, where we have been able in some small way to shape legislation as a small contribution from our time as Members of Parliament.
Does my hon. Friend share my frustration that the Procedure Committee in the previous Parliament, and I believe in the Parliament before that and in the current Parliament, has spent a considerable amount of time looking at the private Member’s Bill system and has come up with sensible proposals, such as allowing the Backbench Business Committee to allocate the first four Bills so that Bills that command support from across the House can make progress? That is not dissimilar to the sensible system in the Scottish Parliament where, again, provided that there is consensus, Bills can move forward instead of the Government having an effective veto.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. He really gets to the point of what this is about. Private Members’ Bills are popular things. Our constituents like them. This is the kind of work they want to see us doing. They want to see us working consensually together, progressing Bills that are of interest to them. I commend the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for going about this in exactly the right way and asking the people of this country what they wanted his Bill to be about, given that he was No. 1 in the ballot. That is the kind of approach that our constituents increasingly want us to take, rather than the usual stuff that we observe, particularly during set-piece opportunities such as private Members’ Bills. Instead of thwarting the progress of these Bills, let us get behind them and support them. Let us ensure that this country gets what it seems to want.
To be successful with a private Member’s Bill, there are three really big tests that a Member has to overcome. First, they have to beat all the rest of their colleagues to get on the ballot. It is remarkable that nearly 95% of Members of this House applied to bring in a private Member’s Bill. That is how popular they are. The Member will have to get into the top 10, or possibly the top 20, in the ballot just to get their Bill to a Second Reading. The second test involves the tough task of getting it through its Second Reading debate. They will need 100 Members down here to ensure that they get the closure motion, but the debates are held on Fridays when we are traditionally with our constituents, hard-pressed as we are to respond to our constituents’ interests. The Member will have to work cross-party to ensure that they have a range of support across the House. They will have to work consensually. They will also be at the mercy of the filibusterer, our good friend the hon. Member for Christchurch, when he gets to his feet to try to ensure that the Bill is blocked and disrupted.
If a Member can do all that and get their Bill through its Second Reading, they will then face the third test: does it meet the approval of the Government? At that point, the Government can simply decide that they do not like the Bill and refuse it a money resolution. That will effectively kill it off, or at least put it into private Member’s Bill purgatory. That is what has happened just now with the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton. Why are we accepting this? Why are we prepared to allow this Government to block the democratic decisions of this House and to stop something that is clearly popular?
I have a neat and elegant solution: we need to take the decision out of the Government’s hands. If a private Member’s Bill passes its Second Reading, a money resolution must automatically follow. I have heard the Leader of the House saying, consistently and ad nauseam, that money resolutions are within the gift of the Government. She has talked about the Government’s opportunities and obligations, and she has talked about “Erskine May”. She has told us what the convention is. That does not matter. We could not care less about all that. If there is a convention, we must make a new one. If there is a tradition, we must start to do these things in a new way. If it is in “Erskine May”, let us revisit and review “Erskine May”. If it is in the Standing Orders of the House, let us change them. Let us ensure that we deal with this, because at the moment our arrangements for private Members’ Bills are letting the House down and letting our constituents down. Let us take back control. Now, where have I heard that before? Oh yes, that is what this House is supposed to be doing. How about we demonstrate it in relation to these Bills?
The hon. Gentleman says that we have to show that we in this House are listening to our constituents. Can he tell me how many people in Perth and North Perthshire have spoken to him specifically about the money resolution for the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton?
I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that I was very impressed with his skills in the Scottish cup final the other day. His recovery technique was absolutely superb. It was the highlight of the game for me. I can also tell him that my mailbag is absolutely full of all types of suggestions for private Members’ Bills that people find favour with, and I am pretty certain that the hon. Gentleman will have had the same experience.
I have another solution to the Government’s approach: if they do not like a Bill, they should come to the House and explain why they do not like it. They should not hide behind process and procedure. They should not try to block these Bills simply because they have the means and the capability to do so. They should argue their case on the Floor of the House. I happen to think that the Government have a case when it comes to the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton. They tell us that a boundary review is under way, and yes, of course it is. The House seemed to back it, but the Government did not get a majority in the last election. I think that the Leader of the House has got that one wrong. But let the Government bring their argument for not progressing the Bill to the House where we can debate it. If they have their way, and majority is in favour, that is what the Government will do. However, if they do not get their way, and if this House clearly tells them that it wants to pursue a different approach, the Government should listen to that and respect that decision. Democracy starts with respecting the wishes of this House, and we are getting into dangerous territory when that is so casually overlooked. Let us get back to making sure that when this House speaks, the Government respond and act on that clear decision.
I want to say a bit more about the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton. It is an important Bill that I personally support. I spoke in the debate on the previous Bill that Pat Glass was trying to take through Parliament. The critical feature of this Bill is to defend the number of Members of Parliament in this House. Is it not something else when, over the weekend, extra unelected Members of the House of Lords were created? Is it not something when this Government want to cut the number of directly elected Members of Parliament while increasing the number in that absurd circus down the corridor? Apparently, this is all because they are embarrassed by the successive defeats that they have suffered at the hands of the House of Lords. Apparently, they are not the right type of legislators, so the Government are going to appoint the right type of legislators. Is that not utterly absurd?
I can sense the hon. Gentleman’s pain as a result of all this.
I have seen a petition signed by 150,000 people across the country who are calling for the abolition of the House of Lords. I have listened keenly to the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), who has now started to suggest that there is something perfidious about the nature of the House of Lords. He now has doubts about its constitutional role. I think that the Government are on their last legs when it comes to this. Perhaps there is a coalition across this House that might be able to deal with this question adequately. There are only 22 countries across the world that have a Chamber like the House of Lords. In having a fully appointed Chamber, we are in the company of the Russias, the Madagascars, the Omans and the Saudi Arabias. That profoundly embarrasses this country, and it has to be addressed. How dare we have the gall to lecture the developing world about the quality of its democracy when we have that absurd institution down the corridor?
I want to say something ever so gently and I hope in a friendly way to my friends in the Labour party: what on earth are they doing appointing Members to that absurd circus? They are just as culpable as the Government when it comes to putting more people into that absurd institution. Comrade Lords are taking their places with the nation’s aristocrats, party donors, bishops and failed politicians, and backing the sound socialist values of deference, knowing your place, forelock-tugging and the hereditary principle. Well done the Labour party! Is that not something else to be proud of? Until they stop putting people in the House of Lords, they are no better than the Conservatives.
That is an absurd argument. This is what it comes to. The Conservatives want to abolish the House of Lords not because it is an absurd circus and an embarrassment; they want to abolish it because it is doing the right thing. That is how absurd this is.
This Government apparently want to cut the number of directly elected Members of Parliament in this House just at the point when our workload is about to dramatically increase as we get rid of our 73 Members of the European Parliament as a result of this Government’s clueless Brexit. The responsibilities that are currently exercised by our MEPs will have to be dealt with by an even smaller pool of Members of Parliament.
Of course I am not saying that. I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman is missing in all this. We have 73 members of the European Parliament just now, but they will soon be gone. He and I, and all other Members of this House, will therefore have an increased workload. There will be more scrutiny work for Select Committees, for example. The size of the Executive will be the same, because there are no proposals to cut the size of the Government—
Order. I say gently to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) that if I am being charitable I will say that he has been diverted from the path of virtue by the spontaneous intervention from the hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke). Periodic animadversion to the membership of the House of Lords is one thing, but a constant and unceasing dilation upon it is another. The former is orderly; the latter is not.
I am grateful for your guidance, Mr Speaker, and I will not be driven to speak further about the House of Lords by any hon. Member—at least until the end of this debate.
In conclusion, Parliament’s credibility is on the line. The affection that the public have for this House is being called into question due to how we deal with such things. The public like the private Member’s Bill system. They want more of it, not less of it. They want the Government to be supportive and enabling; they do not want them to stymie or to block things with all manner of procedural techniques. Why do we not vow today that we have a lot of affection for our private Member’s Bill system and that we want to see it work? We should support it, and we should start by ensuring that if a Bill gets past its Second Reading, it receives a money resolution and gets through.
Order. After the next speaker I will impose a time limit on Back-Bench speeches which, as things stand, will probably be of the order of eight minutes or thereabouts. However, the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), the Chair of an illustrious Select Committee, has slightly greater latitude, which I know he will not abuse.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I say to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) that I hope that he and his colleagues from Scotland will continue to avail themselves of the opportunity to propose private Members’ Bills in this House for a great many centuries to come.
This debate is confined to the narrow question of money resolutions for private Members’ Bill. We are not here to debate constituency boundaries, even though you have allowed a certain amount of latitude, Mr Speaker, but I should draw the House’s attention to a report published by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in February entitled “Parliamentary Boundary Reviews: What Next?” The report stated that the Government cannot be confident that the House of Commons will support the implementation of the present boundary recommendations in the autumn, concluding that
“if it moved quickly, it would be possible for the Government to introduce new legislation to allow for a new boundary review and for it to be implemented prior to a 2022 election”—
or a 2021 election. We also concluded that any proposals
“would need to be properly debated by Parliament and a consensus reached”
but that there are
“serious problems with using the existing boundaries for a further election in 2022”
or 2021. Our sole recommendation was therefore that
“the House of Commons should be given an early opportunity to debate the options for reform and to decide whether or not to continue the current boundary review. In doing so the House would need to consider the potential risks of legislating, and establish if consensus can be reached in time for legislation to be passed before the summer. The Government should consider if the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill—
the Bill presented by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan)—
“could provide such an opportunity.”
The purpose of that recommendation was simply to draw the House’s attention to the position that we are in. The Government are in danger of leaving the House of Commons with Hobson’s choice when it comes to the timetabling of a vote on the boundary review, which will be in September or October, because it will be very late indeed—if not impossible—to legislate for an alternative boundary review. Nevertheless, it is entirely plausible that the House will vote down the 2018 boundary review.
On 17 February 2000, Oasis were at No. 1 and Tony Blair had not yet been Prime Minister for three years. If somebody born on that day was elected in 2022, they would be younger than the data used to formulate the boundary review. However, that would not be a democratic disaster. Democracy would still work and people would still vote intelligently in their constituencies, but we would be failing in our duty to provide a fair democratic system that commands the public’s confidence.
I rather lament the partisan division that has opened up over the boundary question, and we in the Conservative party must share a measure of responsibility for that. An arbitrary limit of 600 was set in order to “reduce the cost of politics”, but—let’s face it—there was something of an electoral gimmick in that proposal and it did not command confidence. The 5% variation between the size of constituencies that we included in our legislation was extremely controversial, and we have lost some of the consensus around boundary reviews that I used to see in my earlier years in the House.
I am bound to say that there is a certain amount of pots and kettles in all this, and if the Labour party is genuinely seeking a consensus, it could provide the Government with an assurance about how a new boundary review might proceed. I hope such conversations are going on. For example, to use a new boundary Bill as a Christmas tree for things that the Labour party would like to its electoral advantage would undermine confidence in that consensus, but conversations should be happening. That would be better than this rather scrappy debate, which does not serve this House’s reputation well.
I wholeheartedly agree with what the Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has already said, not least because unless we are able to provide a consensus on such matters there will not be a lasting constitutional settlement. What does he think would happen if the boundaries were voted down in September or October, as was suggested on Second Reading of the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill, and there were to be a general election next year or in 2020? What boundaries would be used then, and what political confidence would the nation have in them?
I have made that point already. There would be no democratic disaster; we would not be going back to 1832 and rotten boroughs, for goodness’ sake. The boundaries would just be rather old. The electoral data in our constituencies would be up to date, but the data used to draw the boundaries would be out of date. Government Members have argued that traditional boundary reviews have been carried out with rather unequal constituencies, and there is a consensus, as represented by the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill, that constituencies should be more equal—that point has been conceded.
I hope that there is a consensus, but the danger is that we are losing the opportunity for this House to make serious choices while we wait for the boundary review. It would be entirely legitimate for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to say that we should not commit to spending more money on a new boundary review until we have decided on the old one. I am simply saying what my Select Committee recommended, which is that we bring forward the decision. The shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), is nodding, but her party has many opportunities to put something on the Order Paper that would make that decision. She has sat on this report since February, so why have the Opposition not done something more proactive if they feel so strongly about this? [Interruption.] The hon. Lady is now looking aghast, but there are Opposition days on which a resolution could be tabled to give the House the opportunity to decide on the matter.
I just want some consensual, grown-up discussion, and I do not see much of a future in continuing the scrappy discussion that we have had so far. The Select Committee’s report has received a formal response from the Government, and we will be considering it soon. I am advised that I cannot refer to it, but I say, “Don’t hold your breath.” I think it leaves the Government with room for manoeuvre to be flexible and adaptive to the present situation, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will take that message back to the Cabinet.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin).
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) for securing a debate on this very important issue after the House voted overwhelmingly in support of his private Member’s Bill. It is unfortunate we have had to have this debate because of the Government’s wrongful persistence. I thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing last week’s Standing Order No. 24 application and for granting this debate. It is extremely important that we are able to discuss this issue.
Having listened to the Leader of the House speak of all the great things she has awarded Parliament and this Chamber, of the Bills she has allowed and of how gracious she has been, I should perhaps be on bended knee to await her grace and favour. I am aghast that I should even be here to question this situation.
Unfortunately for the Leader of the House, we are not in China. We are the longest-serving democracy in the world. We are the mother of Parliaments. Parliament is supreme, and her job as Leader of the House is to convey those things—not to block, and not to stand for the Executive rather than listen to the voice of this Chamber. In her speech she mentioned only what has been put forward by the Executive and the reasons why she is still not able to say, “Yes, we will grant this money resolution because it is the overwhelming will of this Chamber that we do so.”
I do not want to deviate too much on the boundary change issue, to which the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex and others have alluded, but these are the figures on which the boundary commissions have been working: 46,107,152 people were registered to vote in 2011; and in 2017, 46,826,481 people were registered to vote, a 2.67% change. This year’s electoral registration figure is 46,148,035, which means the number of people able to vote has reduced.
The big issues for the boundary changes are, first, the number of people actually on the electoral register and, secondly, how registration has happened over the past eight years and how this Executive have made it difficult for people to register to vote. That is the real problem that the Leader of the House needs to address, and she has not yet done so.
Members on both sides of the Chamber have mentioned the cost factor. The Government say the cost of Parliament is too high. Will a Government Member stand up and tell me how many Members have been appointed to the other place since 2010? What is the cost of those appointments?
No. The right hon. Gentleman cannot tell me how many people have been appointed. He cannot tell me the cost of the people who have been appointed. Members of Parliament have a specific role. Unlike Members of the other place, we serve the interest of our constituents and we look after their needs. Our constituents come to us at our surgeries. My constituents continually come to my office, which is open five days a week from morning till afternoon—my office has some of the highest caseloads in the country. As has been mentioned, Members of the European Parliament will soon no longer exist, and we will take on their work load. This is not an issue of arbitrarily trying to reduce the size of the House by 50 Members. To be a proper democracy we have to be held to account. To be able to move forward, we have to think about how we address the needs of the people we represent.
The Government’s proposals would dilute the democratic process, which is why the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton is important. The Bill would address the size of constituencies and the number of Members. There would be a 7.5% deviation in the size of constituencies, so the boundary commissions need proper, accountable figures. A census should be taken so we have the right sort of numbers that we can trust. The Bill would allow young people to come on to the electoral register, and the registration mechanism needs to be properly addressed to allow that to happen. That is a key issue.
Another key issue is the number of people we have appointed to the other place and the cost of doing so, and the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) could not answer my question. Democracy has a cost, and democracy is not about saving money. It is important for our people that they are democratically represented. That is what this country is about; it is not about making the House smaller and smaller, which would mean people cannot get to their Member of Parliament. On top of that, our constituents have to deal with austerity cuts on a day-to-day basis. We have seen a huge number of people coming forward about that, and now the Leader of the House tells us that austerity will now apply to private Members’ Bills because we do not have the money.
I could tell the Leader of the House about the issues in my constituency and how the Boundary Commission for England has completely torn asunder the communities in my constituency, but that would take much more time than Mr Speaker wishes me to have, so I will heed his advice.
The Leader of the House needs to be mindful of understanding the issues. She needs to look at granting a money resolution, as is the will of the House, and she must allow sufficient time for the Bill to be passed.
I thank the independent Boundary Commission for its hard work on this long-standing review. The Boundary Commission is staffed by independent civil servants, and any accusations of so-called gerrymandering do them no favours.
Not only has £5 million already been spent on the review—the review will cost £8 million by the end, and it would be a waste of money to pause the process—but there has been a record number of submissions to it, around 45,000, many from Labour Members supporting the proposals for their own constituencies. It is right that we have that democratic process and several rounds of consultation.
This review first started in February 2016 but, as the House knows, it is not the first review. History will not be kind to us, as a House, when it looks back on such occasions. I first entered this place eight years ago and, looking on the Back Benches, I see several other former Ministers who had responsibility for the constitution, not least my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper).
I was a Back Bencher when I first voted on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011, which legislated for the initial reduction from 650 seats to 600, thereby saving the taxpayer £13 million a year, and more than £60 million over the course of a Parliament. I thought we had done the right thing then, but I was wrong because, come 2013, there was another vote in which Opposition Members—including Liberal Democrat Members who are not present today, and not only because there are far fewer of them to contribute—overwhelmingly voted for a review of a 600-seat House in 2018.
Opposition Members voted to delay the review and, having reached this point, they now want to kick the can further down the road.
I ask the question again: if the Boundary Commission proposals are not carried in September or October 2018, as seems likely following the result of the Second Reading vote on the private Member’s Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), how many parliamentary constituencies will there be under the law in a general election held next year or the year after—650 or 600?
As we know, the current rule will mean there will be 650 and it will remain that way. It is a disgrace that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) said, we are still using demographics going back to February 2001 for our general elections. I was 18 when that last boundary review was passed and, historically, we have never been in this position before—this is unprecedented. We have gone far past the situation of the 1970 decision to delay the 1958 review, and the current delay is unacceptable. Constituencies near that of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) have historically been small. For instance, Arfon has 38,000 constituents whereas North West Cambridgeshire has 95,000. It is unacceptable that when it comes to our parliamentary representation—
No, simply because, as I have stated, it is right that we allow the boundary process, which is only 14 weeks from completion and the Order in Council being laid, to carry on unhindered. Those independent civil servants deserve Parliament’s support. They deserve our providing consistency and not mucking around with this process once more. They deserve the opportunity to have this vote, as do our constituents who voted, through manifesto processes in 2017 and 2015, to restate the case for a reduction in the number of parliamentary constituencies. Whenever that vote takes place between 1 September and 1 October, I ask every Member of Parliament who is going through the Lobby to think about how they are going to vote. Our constituents are not going to thank us if we turn around and say we want to increase the number of MPs and that we think it is totally fine that we have 650 Members of Parliament, whereas in France Emmanuel Macron is claiming that 550 representatives are too many and he wishes to cut that number by a third.
In my local authority of South Gloucestershire, residents voted for a ticket whereby the Conservative council administration has successfully taken forward a local government boundary review reducing the number of councillors by 10%, from 70 to 63. That is right because it is cutting the cost of politics and we should also do that in this House. In the vote, Members should look themselves in the mirror and think, “Do I wish to be an MP who has to turn around and say to my constituents that I voted to protect my job and a bureaucracy, when Chambers across western Europe are looking in the other direction and reducing the number of elected representatives?”
Let me start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), on securing this debate and on the vigour with which he pursues this esoteric yet important issue. At the moment, Mr Speaker, he and I share a standing engagement, Wednesday at 9.30 am, but it is not for tennis, as you might like, nor is it for five-a-side football or even for a nice brisk run as is my preference. Instead, we go to the Committee Corridor every Wednesday to consider the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill. It is trapped in parliamentary purgatory: having been overwhelmingly supported on Second Reading, it has been denied a money resolution by the Government. So we meet but we cannot advance the process. We discuss this point briefly and then adjourn, and then we do it again the following week—it is rinse, wash, repeat. We are booked in for Wednesday and I know there will be room in the audience for hon. Members to observe us doing this.
At the first meeting, the Minister responsible for this Bill, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, said that no such resolution would be forthcoming as there is already a similar process in train to the one that my hon. Friend seeks to commence. That is an argument the Leader of the House has made today, but there are two significant holes in it. First, the case being made by the Government is not an argument against a money resolution being tabled; it is an argument against voting for a money resolution. It is perfectly reasonable for the Government to think this process should stop and that it would be a bad bit of legislation, and indeed the hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) made a passionate argument against it. In which case, let us divide on the matter. But the Government refuse to bring forward that Division, which shows either that they know their argument is weak or that they cannot win a vote—or perhaps it is both those things. Either way, that is not a reason to withhold a money resolution.
Secondly, when the House overwhelmingly voted for this Bill on Second Reading, it did so knowing all the arguments that have been made here. This place was well aware of all of them, be they about finances or the nature of the review that is already in progress. We knew all those things—they are not revelations—yet this House divided and chose overwhelmingly to continue with the process. Now that is being thwarted because it is not convenient for the Executive; the will of this legislature does not fit with what the Executive want and, therefore, on a point of procedure, it seems it must be stopped. That is a particularly unsatisfactory state of affairs.
Prior to coming here, I thought that the best argument for codifying our constitution was to protect this place, and the public’s will, from an overbearing and overly strong Executive, but after a year here I have seen that a weak Executive—in terms of not commanding a majority —are just as dangerous to Parliament. Over the year, we have seen that this Government will do lots of things to get through the week: when they lose votes in the Lords, they make more Lords; when they lose votes in the Commons, they rely on secondary legislation; when the Opposition pray against secondary legislation, the Government make it hard to get it on the Floor of this House; when the Government are probably going to lose an Opposition day debate, they do not contest it; and when they might not want to hear what is said during an Opposition day debate, they put a statement on to reduce the time for it. All of those things are not really becoming in a Government; they are desperate acts of a weak Government.
Across this place, all 650 Members, with their different personalities and different reasons for being here, hold different roles: some are in the Government and some are in the Opposition; some are Front Bench and others are Back Bench; and there are first-time Members like me and grizzled veterans, like others. Whatever category we fall into we have one thing in common: we are custodians of this place. As such, we should treat it with respect and not weaken it in the pursuit of our own self-interest. With that in mind, I will be keeping my standing engagement with my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton, hoping to move this Bill forward in line with the will of this place. It is time the Government tabled the money resolution to allow us to do so.
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), and I hope he does not include me as one of those “grizzled” old Members. I am a new Member, too, although, obviously, I am substantially older than he. I recently celebrated a birthday, but it was not my 50th, as some have suggested.
I wish to applaud this UK Government for their willingness to engage with many of the private Members’ Bills put forward during this Session. As has been mentioned, from the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) to the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill put forward the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), we have seen this Government show they can work with Members of all parties to make real progress. Those are, quite simply, examples of this House at its very best, so I do not accept the idea that this Government are riding roughshod over this House, and I certainly do not do so on the grounds that there has been no money resolution for the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill.
The Government have been happy to provide money resolutions for a number of private Members’ Bills, but we also have a manifesto commitment to continue the boundary review process, as I recognise. I am glad to see that reducing the cost of politics will be achieved by leaving the EU; we in this place are positively frugal compared with our MEP colleagues. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) would pull 59 MPs out of here, which would probably save a fortune. I am glad to see that he now defends this place so passionately against the decisions of the other place. It is simply common sense to let the boundary review continue and then consider how to proceed once the Boundary Commission has reported. As other Members have mentioned, rebalancing constituencies is essential, although some may question the reduction from 650 to 600. The UK Government have not dismissed this private Member’s Bill out of hand; all they are doing is saying, entirely reasonably, that we should wait for the boundary review process, which is still going on, otherwise we would have a clear case of putting the cart before the horse: pre-empting the Boundary Commission’s recommendations would be not only a waste of money but disrespectful to the Boundary Commission. I therefore do not accept that the UK Government are out of line for not providing a money resolution. Frankly, if hon. Members want to see a Parliament whose independence from the Executive is being undermined by a minority Government, they would do well to look at Holyrood, where they would see a fine example of it.
If we accepted the case that has been made, the Government would have to duplicate the commission’s work—there is absolutely no point in doing that—and needlessly spend anything between £5 million and £8 million, as we have heard. I encourage the commission to report substantially before October, if it can, to give us more options. It should embrace the mood of Parliament and broaden the options from the 2017 position. The commission must be pragmatic about the support that it has in this place, but we must wait to hear what it says.
I commend the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) on securing this debate, and thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting time for us to debate this issue under the auspices of Standing Order No. 24. I am disappointed that it has had to come to an emergency debate, but let us be honest: it is the Government’s pig-headedness on this issue that has brought it to the fore. I say that as a member of the Public Bill Committee that is considering the boundaries Bill, which is in political purgatory.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), has shown nothing but utter contempt for the will of Parliament, which agreed unanimously to the Bill’s Second Reading. I must say to the Leader of the House that the spectacle of a Minister sitting in Committee doing her papers and saying nothing demeans her office and shows what little respect the Government have for Parliament. Far from Parliament taking back control, we see Ministers simply taking the proverbial. Rather than behaving like a humbled minority Government, Ministers are constantly riding roughshod over parliamentary democracy. They have simply not come to terms with losing their parliamentary majority. I say that humbly as someone whose party lost its majority in the Scottish Parliament in 2016.
The UK Government started by buying off the Democratic Unionist party but continued to give it Opposition Short money, and they continue with the charade of DUP Members sitting on the Opposition Benches. To my recollection, the only time the DUP has not voted with the Government was on the Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign, when the House unanimously passed a motion saying that the women of the 1950s generation should be looked after. The Government ignored that, and thereby continued to perpetrate an injustice against the 1950s WASPI women.
After setting up their grubby confidence and supply agreement with the DUP, the Government began to gerrymander Select Committees, after a lengthy delay in their being set up. The Procedure Committee, of which I am a member, has had to launch an inquiry into the establishment of Select Committees, because of the Government’s actions.
The Government have said that they will just abstain from or, indeed, ignore all Opposition day votes. Is it not remarkable that the Government chose to break that self-imposed convention only when it came to the motion on the release of data about the injustices perpetuated against the black faces of the Windrush generation? The first time the Government chose to take part in an Opposition day vote was to prevent that information from being published.
The real anger in this place today relates to the boundaries Bill, because Ministers want to reduce the number of MPs while they increase the payroll vote of trade envoys and Parliamentary Private Secretaries. Ministers want to reduce the number of MPs while they simultaneously stuff more people into the House of Lords. On Friday last week, when all eyes were on a royal wedding, Labour and the Tories quietly put out the news that they were ennobling another 12 peers on £300 a day. We have the grotesque sight of Corbynite Labour comrades donning the ermine while people in Glasgow are going hungry as a result of British Government austerity.
In recent months, the Government have filibustered debates on votes at 16 because—I do believe this—a clear majority of MPs in this House now supports votes at 16. The Government are too scared to put the issue to a vote. That is exactly what happened to the private Member’s Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon). Now, we have the deeply worrying development of the Government withholding of money resolutions for Bills that they could not defeat on Second Reading. Rather than killing the Bill, the Government could at least give it a money resolution and allow it to be debated in Committee. That would allow Committee members to consider the Bill, clause by clause, and amend it if necessary. If at that stage the Government do not support the Bill, they can vote it down on Third Reading.
All these people in the House talk about Parliament taking back control, but I am not really seeing a huge amount of evidence. The Government are already running out of steam—so much so that one transport Bill has been carved into four separate Bills, simply to beef up the legislative programme. We have a Government who are running scared of Parliament, whether by not recalling Parliament to debate Syrian air strikes or in the form of a zombie Parliament with endless meaningless general debates, which make this place look more like a university debating society.
The reality is that Westminster is a place of limited democracy, and the British establishment has rapidly run out of steam. I say to the Leader of the House that Scotland can be governed differently and efficiently, with a fairer Parliament that has the powers of independence, and the powers to conduct the legislative process in a way that is respectful of not only its Members but the people we seek to represent. The sooner we are free from this, the better.
I am going to talk about the constitutional point in relation to money resolutions, rather than the virtues of the private Member’s Bill of the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), and about the difficulty related to that Bill being a private Member’s Bill. In promoting his debate earlier, the hon. Gentleman said that the situation was democratically quite improper, that the procedures were being ignored, and so on and so forth, but that seemed to me rather to ignore the point that it is usually the practice of this House that the Committee stage of a constitutional Bill is considered on the Floor of the House, just as the Act that the hon. Gentleman’s Bill seeks to amend was. After Second Reading, the hon. Gentleman did not, as he was entitled to—as it happens, as I have done on several occasions—move that his Bill should be put before a Committee of the Whole House, which would have been the correct procedure for a constitutional Bill.
In respect of the money resolution, we are dealing with the most ancient practice of this House and of the constitutional division between the Crown, as represented by Ministers, and the responsibilities of Parliament. Although in this country we do not have as formalised a separation of powers as they have in the United States, none the less we have a separation of powers between that which is done by Ministers and that which is done by this House. What is the role of the House historically? It is to seek redress of grievance and to achieve that redress of grievance by preventing the Government from getting or spending money, or by forcing the Government to change the law to implement that redress of grievance. It is not and never has been the role of this House to seek to force the Government to spend money; the House has always responded to requests to do that.
Therefore, we turn to chapter 32 of “Erskine May”, on page 711, where things are set out extremely clearly. Under the title “Financial Relations Between the Crown and Parliament”, it says:
“It was a central factor in the historical development of parliamentary influence and power that the Sovereign was obliged to obtain the consent of Parliament (and particularly of the House of Commons as representatives of the people) to the levying of taxes to meet the expenditure of the State. But the role of Parliament in respect of State expenditure and taxation has never been one of initiation: it was for the Sovereign to request money and for the Commons to respond to the request. The development of responsible government and the assumption by the Government of the day of the traditional role and powers of the Crown in relation to public finance have not altered this basic constitutional principle: the Crown requests money, the Commons grant it, and the Lords assent to the grant.”
Then there appear in “Erskine May” the rather dubious words “In more modern terms”, before it goes on to say that
“the Government presents to the House of Commons its detailed requirements for the financing of the public services; it is for the Commons, acting on the sole initiative of Ministers, first to authorize the relevant expenditure (or ‘Supply’) and, second, to provide through taxes and other sources of public revenue the ‘Ways and Means’ deemed necessary to meet the Supply so granted.”
I do not disagree with anything that my hon. Friend says, but he refers to the situation for Government legislation. When it is a private Member’s Bill, the convention and tradition of this House, which I hope my hon. Friend supports, is that a money resolution is laid. That does not mean that the money is granted; that is up to the House to debate and then divide on. Does he not accept that point?
No; I disagree fundamentally with that point. That is why our Standing Orders are as they are. If we look at Standing Orders Nos. 48, 49 and 50, we can see that the requirement of public money is given only at the express request of the Crown, because regardless of whether it is a private Member’s Bill or a Government-initiated Bill, the principle is the same.
I would argue that one problem with how we do our business is that we do not afford enough scrutiny of the way in which the Government seek expenditure. We are simply unable to fillet things out, which is why we have not voted against estimates for a very considerable period of time. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the simple proposition that, if the number of MPs is reduced, the number of Ministers should also be reduced?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is a great constitutional expert, but his point is completely irrelevant to this debate, which is on money resolutions relating to private Members’ Bills. He seeks to widen it to the virtues of the Bill that is being considered, but we need to focus on this basic constitutional principle, which is at the heart of how this place operates.
A Government elected on the basis of popular suffrage come to the House with their demands for expenditure. We as Parliament and the House of Commons hold that Government to account for the expenditure they wish to have. It has never been the role of the House to say that money should be spent if the Government do not wish to propose it.
The hon. Gentleman is not focusing on the totality of the constitution. The sovereignty of this House is there to give confidence to the Government of the day. If the Government do not have the confidence of this House, they fall. Therefore, if the Government do not operate correctly in bringing forward their requests for expenditure in terms of their dealings with this House, or if the House does not approve, the Government change.
I will not give way again because time is short, much as I would like to give way to the hon. Gentleman.
The point of the constitutional differentiation—the separation of powers—is that, as long as the Government command the confidence of this House, they are the sole proposer of expenditure.
Of course we are sovereign, but we are sovereign in that we have the ability to dismiss the Government.
The separation of powers is very important. If we allowed the House to do all that the Government try to do, we would in effect not have an Executive. We would simply have Committees of the House trying to run the whole Government, which would be completely impractical and a novel constitutional experiment. For very good reasons, we have the Standing Orders we have. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) rightly said that we can change our Standing Orders—we can change Standing Orders Nos. 48, 49 and 50 so that money resolutions are not needed.
I have so little time—I apologise.
The House has decided not to change its Standing Orders because it recognises that the constitutional settlement works well. The British people give a mandate to the Government. That mandate is represented through this House. That Government then come to this House seeking to push through their agenda. The House holds them to account and supports or opposes their expenditures. We would be turning our constitutional settlement on its head if we decided that the powers of the Executive are to revert to the legislature. We are here to seek redress of grievance and to hold to account. We are not here to mimic, replace or take over the functions of the Government. Therefore, it is our role to say to Her Majesty’s Government: “You are right. You are preserving the constitution. You are following the constitutional norms.”
My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) made a point about conventions. The one he mentioned is observed more in the breach than in the observance. It has been ignored on many occasions because it is not a rule of this House or of the constitution. That an application for expenditure lies with the Government is not only a rule of the constitution, but a cornerstone of it. Let us preserve our constitution.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg).
In my 11 years as an infant teacher, I found that one of the lessons that children find the hardest to learn is that, just because they do not get the outcome they want does not mean that they get to change the rules. Sometimes there were tears and tantrums, but I have insisted with my own children that they cannot change agreed and established rules part of the way through a game just because they want to win. I would not want to draw any comparison between immature, tantruming children who disregard rules and our Government—that would be unfair to children everywhere.
The principle of accepting that we must all learn to follow the rules, even when it makes us incredibly cross and we do not want to, is crucial. Our constitution is an unwritten one. Some might say that it is based on the trial and error and political victories of our history. It is definitely true that aspects of the constitution have been written to suit the holders of political power at different points in time, but it is even more true that the enterprise has kept working because it is underpinned by shared values and democracy. I celebrate the fact that successive Governments have put aside political advantage for the good of the country and for the survival of this, the mother of all Parliaments.
The Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), has led to this debate. It is through that scope and the question of democracy and representation that this debate must be viewed. That is why I am saying to the Government today that they should put calculations of their political advantage aside and do what is right for our country.
The Government introduced the boundary review in a previous Parliament, under very different political conditions, the biggest difference being that it happened before we voted to leave the EU and therefore to get rid of all our MEPs. It is not a replicating review because it is based on 650 seats, not 600. The comments about money are a red herring, because if the Government introduce the money resolution and vote against it, they will not have spent any money.
Our constitution is based on the idea that Parliament is sovereign, that it will be bound by no previous Parliament and that, to paraphrase John Maynard Keynes, when the political facts change, it can change its mind. That is what the House was doing when it agreed on Second Reading to my hon. Friend’s Bill on 1 December last year by 229 votes to 44.
The Government must not continue to play political games in the face of such a clear mandate from the House by not bringing forward the money resolution. I argue that we desperately need more MPs rather than reducing the 650. In my constituency, not everybody who comes to me for help is on the electoral register. In fact, Home Office delays take a huge amount of my time and work in my constituency, yet none of those people are counted under the boundary reviews in the changes.
The Government do not need to support the money resolution. The terms of the convention make it perfectly possible for the Government to introduce the resolution and oppose it. Many on the Treasury Bench would fancy themselves as statesmen or stateswomen. Indeed, their manifesto prominently featured the words “in the national interest”. If they truly believe that it is not the will of the House that boundaries should be changed, and if they believe that they have the numbers to stop it, they can table the resolution and demonstrate it to us. Bring it on. To do otherwise is cowardly and simply undemocratic.
This has been a wide-ranging debate. The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan)—I congratulate him on introducing the debate—spoke about the reduction of the number of seats and directly about his private Member’s Bill bringing the number to 650, which has slightly muddied the waters when we look at money resolutions.
My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) put it better than I possibly could when he quoted the facts. There is a responsibility on the Government to put in place the checks and balances on how legislation comes forward. As has already been said, we are but weeks away from a boundary review decision being taken in this House. The Government’s position is not to dismiss out of hand the Bill of the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, but to say that now is not the time to bring it forward, as we should wait until this decision has been made.
We are a very long way down the line. The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act was first debated in 2011. I was elected in 2010, so it seems to have travelled through my eight years in this Parliament. Obviously, there is much doubt about whether the order will pass with the proposal to reduce the size of the House to 600 seats. It is a crying shame that, among all other things, we may still end up in a situation whereby we have such unequal seats.
Those who have done election monitoring with the OSCE will know from the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe that the maximum difference between seats should seldom exceed 10% and should never exceed 15%. Of course, we are in a situation whereby there are such differences. Let us look at two seats that I picked at random: Wirral West has an electorate of 55,995 and East Ham has an electorate of 83,827. That is a difference of 33%. This is not the time to debate the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton. Amending the legislation to review the situation every 10 years does not really sit with the point about updating the registers every five years, but I do not want to get too involved with actually debating the Bill.
This is the first speech from the Conservative Benches that has actually touched on what is contained in the Bill. The whole reason that Opposition Members want the Bill to go to Committee is so that we can consider it clause by clause. At the moment, we do not have the power to do that because of the Government’s actions.
I say very gently to the hon. Gentleman: patience. Later this autumn, the House will vote on the proposal for 600 seats, as was laid down in statute when the review was pushed forward to 2018. There remains to be very significant work, which may or may not have to be done depending on the outcome of that result. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has intervened a couple of times to ask what happens if that proposal is voted down. I believe the point he is making is that it is laid down in statute that the number of seats has to be reduced to 600 so, even if it is voted down, what are we going to do?
Well, if the Order in Council is voted down in the autumn, I think that the legislation will remain as it is and we will have 650 seats on very old boundaries and very old registers, until such time as the legislation is changed somehow or other by this House. That is not in the Government’s interest; it is not in the Opposition’s interest; and it is not in the interest of the country. I suspect that the Government will suddenly say, “Hello Mr Member from Manchester, Gorton. We’d like to introduce your Bill ourselves.” That is what is going to happen; we all know it.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because that is the point that I am driving at. This has gone on for a long time. The reduction to 600 seats has been talked about in this House for seven years, and we are coming to the vote soon.
In my city of Leeds, I represent 80,000 people. The seat next doors represents 66,000 people—I am rounding the figures. A vote in my constituency is only worth one eighty-thousandth, while just next door a vote is worth one sixty-six-thousandth. That does not actually preach fairness in any way at all, and this goes back to the statistics I mentioned earlier.
My concern is that the politics that come to play in changing the number of seats and the boundaries does not end there. When we arrived at the situation of trying to equalise seats, we said that everybody should be roughly equally represented, which indeed is outlined by the Vienna Commission. But of course, how big seats should be used not to be laid down in law. Instead, it was done by looking at communities and bringing things together. When we move down the road of amending new legislation, we start to hear arguments such as, “Well, actually, let’s not set an arbitrary figure by saying plus or minus 7.5%, 10% or 5%; let’s just base it on communities.” That gives an excuse to have very unevenly sized seats.
The Government are right to hold up the money resolution at this stage, simply because we are at the end of almost seven years of a process and a vote is coming to the House. I hope that the reduction to 600 seats is passed, because this has been long debated. In fact, I believe that it was the hon. Member for Rhondda who was at the Opposition Dispatch Box during our debates on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. I do beg his pardon—I think he was actually there for the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill.
Yes, the hon. Gentleman did both. I sat through debates on both pieces of legislation. The issue has been well debated and we have to bring the vote forward.
If the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 falls, my concern is that we will rush into the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, start the process again and spend more public money on a process that has already taken years, got us to this point and may be voted down again. We could then see a Bill go to the House of Lords, probably get amended against the Government because there is such a large majority against the Government up there, and then say, “Actually, we’re going to get rid of the idea of equalising seat sizes. We’re going back to community sizes.” We need to be more sensible when we are thinking about starting another two-year process.
Let us face it—this House is not going to vote for boundary changes 18 months out from a general election. That would be, as the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton said, like turkeys voting Christmas. Somebody said that it is a very esoteric argument; it exercises us here, but it does not exercise the public. If the 2011 Act is voted down—I really hope it is not because this needs to be brought to an end and we do need to equalise seats—we should not just rush in and say, “Right we’ll do 650 and carry on with the process.” Instead, we should look at the whole thing. Is not one of the problems that when we in this House are voting on our boundaries, we have a fundamental clash of interests?
The reality is that we have now taken so long over this that there is barely a seat in the land that will not have a major change, no matter what it is. A few months out from an election, people think, “Hang on a minute. I’ve built this incumbency. I’m not going to change it at this stage.” Once again, we would end up fighting—as I believe will happen if the Act is voted down in October—the 2022 election on the boundaries that we have today. That would be hopelessly out of date.
We have to give serious consideration to what happens if the Act is voted down. We should not just rush into a private Member’s Bill on the basis of having 650 constituencies. We need to have a careful look at whether we should, in fact, enact a change that would always take place following the next general election and, crucially, that Members would not get to vote on. We could keep the decision for the independent Boundary Commission, which we can lobby and make changes to. That was done across the parties in Leeds and there were some matters on which the parties absolutely agreed. We should not rush into any changes if the Act is voted down.
The Government have every right to withhold a money resolution on a Bill that seeks to disrupt a piece of legislation that is seven years in the making and is just weeks away from being voted on in the House. As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset said, we could be in a situation whereby we are simply not looking after the public purse, and where we are just spending money willy-nilly on the whim and political argument of the time. That needs to stop. After the vote, if the Government are defeated—I hope they are not—we need time to go away and think very carefully about what we do next. Let us be blunt: as it stands, this system is not fit for purpose.
As a relatively new MP, I am still trying to understand how Parliament works and, in particular, the way in which laws are made. One thing that is clear to me is there is very little chance of legislation being made without the support of the Government. As we all know, the Government control the legislative timetable. Apart from the 13 Fridays set aside for private Members’ Bills, there is no other opportunity for such Bills to become law. Even on those 13 Fridays, private Members’ Bills have virtually no chance of becoming law unless they have been lucky enough to have been drawn in the top 10 of the ballot of private Members’ Bills. Even if the Bill has been drawn in the top 10, there is still the prospect that it may be talked out or will not receive sufficient backing from Members.
For a private Member’s Bill to get through its Second Reading, it must first have been properly debated, which means at least four hours of debate. Secondly, there have to be 100 Members present on that given Friday to make the debate quorate. Thirdly, having overcome those hurdles, the Bill has to secure a majority of Members voting for it to proceed. These are all tall measures for a private Member’s Bill to overcome, so once a private Member’s Bill has navigated these obstacles—and bearing in mind the huge odds stacked against a private Member’s Bill to become law—the Government should surely then make provision for the Bill to progress to its next stages. As I mentioned, the Government have the ability to stop a Bill in its tracks on Fridays by either allowing for it to be talked out or organising MPs to vote against its proceeding to its Second Reading.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) secured such a passage for his Bill. In attempting to stop it progressing, the Government have used three different arguments why the money resolution should not be granted: that it is contrary to the Government’s manifesto commitments, that it has insufficient support and that it is for the Government to decide which Bills should receive a money resolution and which should not. I will address each of those in turn.
There are numerous manifesto commitments that the Government have decided not to take forward. Therefore, the fact that something was not in their manifesto should be no barometer of whether private Members’ Bills should progress. On Wednesday, I am introducing my Terminal Illness (Provision of Palliative Care and Support for Carers) Bill. More funding for palliative care was in the Government’s manifesto, so I am hoping that the Bill will get a smooth ride to Second Reading and have the support of a money resolution for it to progress.
On attracting sufficient support for a Bill to progress, on Friday 1 December, when the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill was being debated in the House, there was a Division on a closure motion, and the result was 229 to 44 in favour of moving to the vote. In the vote on allowing the Bill to progress to its Second Reading, the House voted unanimously in favour. A total of 275 Members were present on that day—42% of all Members—and there was no dissent to the Bill’s progressing. That, to me, indicates huge support for the Bill, yet the Government refused to grant it a money resolution. That argument therefore does not stack up either. Speaking as a member of the Bill Committee, I remind the House that the Committee met three times, only to have to adjourn because we could not make progress owing to the Government’s refusal to grant a money resolution. That is a complete waste of time for Members and staff who are on the Committee.
Hon. Members have said that we should wait until the autumn for the Boundary Commission to report. Earlier this year, however, there was an opportunity to take an indicative vote on whether the view of the commission should be voted on. The Public Accounts Committee produced a report proposing to take an in-principle vote on the current boundary review. That would have given an indicative vote on whether the boundary review had the support of this House. That could have been done in February. However, the Government chose to ignore the report of the Public Accounts Committee, which is also made up of Back Benchers.
By their actions, the Government are attacking the parliamentary process, diminishing the role of Back Benchers and acting in an undemocratic way. When the Procedure Committee produced its report on private Members’ Bills on 13 April 2016, the Government responded by saying:
“The Government always endeavours to engage constructively in discussions on money resolutions with Members whose Bills have been granted a Second Reading.”
Even with those private Members’ Bills that have received money resolutions, there has sometimes been an inordinate delay in the resolutions being laid—months, in some cases. Money resolutions should be granted immediately after Second Reading to get rid of this power grab by the Executive, who, after all, despite all their controls, still cherry-pick which Bills they give money resolutions to, thus holding the rest of the Bills to ransom.
This is no way to do business. The system for dealing with private Members’ Bills needs a complete overhaul. If the Government continue to ignore the will of the House and Back-Bench Members, then I fear for democracy. I hope that we will see changes to the way that business is done in this House and that that happens soon.
I want to address most of my remarks to the motion before us. I will touch briefly on some of the points that have come up about the substance of the private Member’s Bill, but I will keep those remarks relatively tight, Madam Deputy Speaker, so as not to stray from the subject of the motion.
First, I want to pick up where my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) left off. He is absolutely right that the Government have the responsibility to bring forward money resolutions and to initiate the spending of money. If we think about it, there is a very good reason for that. In the case of Back Benchers bringing forward a private Member’s Bill under which they propose spending money on a popular cause, people will of course find that very welcome. Members of the public quite frequently like money being spent on good causes. However, if every private Member’s Bill spent a significant amount of money, although each individually might not have a huge impact, collectively they would do so.
That is one of the good reasons why the Government, when bringing forward Bills under their own programme, have to balance the individual measures not only in relation to the good that they do for the money that is spent, but, as my hon. Friend said, in relation to the ways and means—that is, the taxes that have to be levied to pay for those measures. It is therefore right that the Government initiate the spending of money and ask this House to assent to it. That important constitutional principle is worth maintaining.
The right hon. Gentleman is speaking at length about the Government having to be careful about how they authorise spending of money and how that money is planned to be spent. Does he have the same feeling about the £1 billion that was bunged to the Democratic Unionist party after the general election?
I have not really been speaking at length—I had only been speaking for about a minute when I generously gave way to the hon. Gentleman. The Government do have to spend public money wisely. As they said, spending money on the people—the people—of Northern Ireland, who had to suffer over many decades from the impact of terrorist violence and a divided society, is a perfectly proper spending of public money. I, for one, am very pleased that we have got to a situation where the public realm in Northern Ireland is much more peaceful and the communities are living much more closely together. Dealing with some of that legacy of the past is a very welcome and very proper thing for the Government to spend public money on.
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was responding to the intervention by the hon. Member for Glasgow East, but I do not want to be taken off the point.
It is proper that the Government have that role of financial initiation. It is also clear that there is a convention that the Government will bring forward a money resolution, but it has not been an invariable convention. There have been a number of examples—the Leader of the House set them out—where Ministers have not brought forward money resolutions. I was intrigued by the point made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael). The private Member’s Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) on a European Union referendum was not given a money resolution despite the fact that the then Prime Minister was very keen on doing so. There have been plenty of examples of private Members’ Bills not being given money resolutions.
I repeat what the Leader of the House said, as did the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith)—that the Government simply want to wait for the Boundary Commission’s report. One of my hon. Friends, I think, asked whether it could report earlier. It cannot do that because the primary legislation means that it can report only between September and October of this year, and that is what it is going to do. Given that we have been having boundary commissioners look at the parliamentary boundaries since, in effect, 2011, I do not think it is unreasonable that we allow one of those reviews to reach completion and allow this House to make a decision before we then consider what to do. The position that the Leader of the House has set out is not unreasonable. I think the central thrust is absolutely right.
I wanted briefly to touch on some of the points that were made in the debate, before you were in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I will not dwell on them at length because they touched on the substance of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan). The first is about the timing of his proposed review and about the members of the public who are not on the electoral registers under the arrangement that the current boundary review is considering. That sounds superficially like an attractive point. However, detailed analysis of the changes in the registers between the start of that review and a review that he would like to trigger showed that the distribution of voters across the country was fairly consistent, and so there would not actually be a significant impact on the distribution of constituencies across the country.
To Members who find that a huge point, I simply reiterate that the general election last year was carried out with boundaries that were drawn based on electoral registers that date from 2000, which was a point strongly made by the Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin). If they are worried about voters who were not on the electoral register in the last couple of years, they should surely be concerned that the current boundaries do not take into account voters who have gone on to the register in the last 18 years. That is a much bigger injustice. Allowing the current review to continue and this House to take a view on it is much the best thing to do.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. I favour having more frequent reviews—one a Parliament—that are much smaller and less disruptive, rather than less frequent reviews that are much more disruptive because so much population shift has happened. That is a better balance. Indeed, that was what the House decided when it passed the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) talked about the House of Lords. The Prime Minister’s nomination of peers was very modest; I think it was 13 in total. If we look at the votes on Brexit legislation, I do not think anybody could suggest that it was anything to do with that, given that most of the votes the Government lost in the other place were by significantly more than that number. They were modest and very reasonable proposals.
There is a very real point about the size of the other place. My understanding is that they themselves recognise that, and I know that work is under way to look at reducing the size of the other place. I hope that some consensus can be reached, so that it can be shrunk. I say somewhat immodestly that I am very pleased when we debate this issue, because as some Members will remember, I made modest proposals to reform the other place by shrinking it quite considerably and making it more democratic, although they did not find favour with the House. Indeed, I do not think we received a huge amount of support from the Scottish National party in getting that legislation through Parliament. As much as SNP Members protest now, they were not supportive when it would have been helpful.
My final point, to come back to the debate at hand, is about what private Members’ Bills should be used for. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset touched on this. I do not think they should be used for significant constitutional measures. Detailed debate on those should take place on the Floor of the House, as we did with the 2011 Act. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) put his finger on it when he suggested that most private Members’ Bills do not need money resolutions because they should not be used for significant areas of public policy that involve spending significant amounts of money. That properly should be the role of the Government, not private Members’ Bills. Private Members’ Bills most often should not require money resolutions because they should not require huge amounts of money to be spent; they should properly be for things that do not require the expenditure of huge amounts of money. We would not then be having the sort of argument we are having today.
In conclusion, the Government are right. The Leader of the House’s arguments are very reasonable. She has undertaken to keep this matter under review, and I do not think we can say fairer than that.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) on securing the debate and on being successful in the ballot.
Private Members’ Bills are important and have been responsible for some major social change in this country. The Sexual Offences Act 1967, which legalised private consensual sex between males over the age of 21, was a private Member’s Bill promoted by Leo Abse. Sydney Silverman’s private Member’s Bill became the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965, which suspended the death penalty in Great Britain, excluding Northern Ireland, if I remember correctly.
Major social change has been made in this country through private Members’ Bills. Sometimes, including in the case of those two Bills, Governments have preferred to use private Members’ Bills to make those changes, rather than to legislate for it themselves. Not as famous as those two Bills was the Christmas Day (Trading) Act 2004, which I successfully piloted through the House, to limit larger shops from opening on Christmas day. If anyone asks you, Madam Deputy Speaker, why they cannot shop in a large hypermarket on Christmas day, you can say that it is my fault.
The traditional route for private Members’ Bills then was to get selected in the ballot and then argue the Bill through on a Friday. I remind new Members that in those days, we had the formidable Eric Forth in the Chamber, who was the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. I successfully fought him for a few Fridays, and then we did a deal to get my Bill through. It is an important way for Back-Bench Members to get legislation on to the statute book. That was the traditional route, but we now have a blocking move by the Government. When Members put in for the private Member’s Bill ballot in future, they will have to think about whether the Government will ever give the Bill a money resolution.
I am listening carefully to the examples of private Members’ Bills given by the right hon. Gentleman; the thing they all had in common was that they did not involve spending large amounts of public money. I suspect that most of them did not require money resolutions, and that is the proper role for private Members’ Bills
I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman, because we then get into a situation where we have to ask who defines what the amount of money is. That is the point—it has to be down to the House to decide whether a money resolution is passed.
The hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) quite rightly asked what is stopping the Government laying down a money resolution to be debated on the Floor of the House. I am sure there are Members in the Chamber tonight who know that I can speak and have spoken at length on money resolutions. Why are the Government not bringing forward a money resolution to be debated on the Floor of the House? If it is the will of the House that this Bill should have a money resolution, it should go forward. It should not be for the Executive to decide which Bill gets a money resolution. Otherwise, we should just scrap the current system of private Members’ Bills.
I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), who is not in his place. He is wrong in the points he made. It is the convention of the House that we do not vote on estimates, for example, but we could, and we could block them. I would challenge him and ask: if the Government are so confident that they are right, why do they not test the will of the House and bring forward the money resolution for debate on the Floor of the House? We all know the reason: the Government do not have a majority and will not dare do so, for fear that they will lose that vote.
Therein lies the problem. Clearly, there are a number of Conservative Back Benchers who will not vote for the current Boundary Commission recommendations, which I will get on to in a minute, and the Government are not confident about getting them through. Not tabling a money resolution to the private Member’s Bill is a new blocking technique. They do not want to test the will of the House because of their fragile majority—or rather lack of a majority; I do not think they could have carried the Democratic Unionists at that stage. What are the Government afraid of? They should bring the resolution before the House and let it decide.
In terms of the argument that the Bill will somehow be a waste of £8 million, I am taking no lectures from the Government. I remember the coalition Government flipping and changing over whether we should have cats and traps on aircraft carriers, for example, which cost the taxpayer £100 million. There was the decision to renationalise the east coast main line last week; the rebranding of the trains alone is going to cost £13 million. The argument is complete nonsense. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) summed it up very well when he said that the Government would not be wasting money because what will happen, if they lose on this matter, is that they will pick up the Bill as a way of enacting the new boundaries.
May I turn briefly to the new boundaries? I believe in the equalisation of constituencies, which is fair and a part of our democratic process. It is important to have confidence in that, and to keep the link, which is unique in our system, between individual Members and their constituencies and communities. The gerrymandering that was done by the Cameron Government in reducing the number of MPs to 600 has led to the Boundary Commission—and I do feel sorry for it—being given an impossible task. We only have to look at some of the recommendations that have been put forward for the shape of constituencies, with communities put together that have no connection whatsoever. For example, there is one in the north-east that would win a geography prize and, given its odd shape, would clearly not be out of place in Texas in the United States.
Order. I hesitate to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, and I apologise to him. There has been a technical problem with the clock, and the number of minutes apparently left to him is not the number of minutes he has left. He has taken two interventions, so I will add on two minutes of injury time, but I would be very grateful if he did the House the courtesy of finishing at 7.33 pm.
As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, brevity is my style; I will certainly do what you request.
A fundamental part of our democracy in this country is the link between the constituency and the community, but that has been thrown out completely in this process. I do not blame the Boundary Commission for that; I blame the coalition Government. Let us remember that there was a coalition, and the Liberal Democrats signed up as well.
There has also been the argument that the cost of democracy will somehow be reduced. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr Mahmood) asked how many peers David Cameron created. He created 198 in six years, and I understand that the cost of that is an additional £22 million a year.
Unfortunately, I cannot give way because I do not have the time.
This debate is not about the cost, but about the fact that the Government cannot secure a majority in this House. They do not have a majority among their own Back Benchers to support their legislation, and if they were really thinking about the public purse, they would ditch the Boundary Commission review now, adopt the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton, so that we can equalise constituencies and get on with the process, which would actually save, not cost, money.
May I finish by making a point about the Leader of the House, whose job is to uphold and protect our rights as a Chamber? I am sorry, but I do not think she is doing a very good job of that at all. She has found herself on this occasion bowing to the inevitable, with a Government who clearly do not have a majority, but want to get their own way at all costs.
It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who was unusually succinct.
I will concentrate my comments on the question of money resolutions, which is the topic of this Standing Order No. 24 debate. I must say that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) put this very well. The nub of this question is whether the right to initiate public expenditure should sit with the House as a whole or with the Government. By requiring Government consent before a money resolution is tabled, we are in effect saying that it is the prerogative of the Government to initiate public expenditure, not the prerogative of the House as the whole. It is the role of the House as a whole to consent to expenditure, but not to initiate it.
The reason for that is twofold. The first reason why it is important to do it that way is that the Government, in their general duties, have to balance the demands of spending and raising taxes. If the House as a whole seeks to introduce measures that require significant expenditure without at the same time raising the revenue to do so, we quite quickly head towards national bankruptcy. That is why we have a Budget each year in which the Government, with an even hand, balance those things. If we simply allowed the House as a whole to initiate unfunded expenditure, we would rapidly go bust.
Perhaps I should elaborate further on the distinction I was drawing about the power to initiate expenditure. The Government rightly have the power to initiate debates and votes on expenditure. In this case, the Government are choosing—this may change, but at the moment they are choosing—not to do so.
The second reason why it is reasonable for the Government rather than the House as a whole to have the power to initiate significant expenditure is that if the House as a whole took that power on itself, the House as a whole would in effect become the Government or the Executive, and rather than having a system of Cabinet Government, the whole House would in effect become the Cabinet and the established system of Government would fundamentally cease to exist. Although this seems like quite an arcane point, there is in fact a profound constitutional principle underpinning it. The whole role of Parliament would fundamentally alter if we took the step being contemplated.
No, that is not what we should do. I am specifically referring to the expenditure of significant amounts of money that requires budgetary balance—a discipline Labour Members may well want to reflect on.
The right hon. Member for North Durham listed a number of private Members’ Bills over the years, some of which have been very significant, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean pointed out in an intervention, almost all—in fact, all—of the private Members’ Bills that were listed did not require significant expenditure. The distinction I draw is about initiating expenditure and the balance between the Executive and the legislature.
That is fine, but will we then get a situation in which, when someone initiates a private Member’s Bill, we get into a debate not about whether it needs a money resolution, but whether it needs what is deemed to be a significant amount of expenditure? As we all know, what is significant in the eyes of one person is different from what is significant in the eyes of others.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the expenditure in this case—I think it is some £13 million—is insignificant; that money would pay for 300 nurses. If Labour Members are seeking to advance the argument that £13 million of our constituents’ money is insignificant, I think they are sorely mistaken. If that is their attitude, it perhaps explains why the deficit they bequeathed us in 2010 was quite so large.
To move on to the process, the Government are taking quite a sensible view by saying that they will wait and see when it comes to the money resolution for this private Member’s Bill, because we have an active process that is currently running and on which considerable time and money have already been expended. There will be a report to the Government and also to the House in a matter of three or four months, and to have two separate processes cutting across and indeed contradicting each other before the House has reached a decision on the first process strikes me as duplicative and wasteful. It is therefore quite reasonable to wait for three or four months—it is not very long: a matter of a few weeks—before deciding how to proceed.
The House itself will reach a decision about the proposed boundaries with 600 constituencies in the month of October, and having waited seven or eight years we can quite comfortably wait until then. At that point, we will of course have a debate about the Boundary Commission proposals, and the fact that the Government are prepared to wait and see with regard to this private Member’s Bill until then hints at some degree of open-mindedness about the outcome of whether we are equalising at 600 or 650 constituencies. That open-mindedness actually shows respect for the House because the Government are saying that they will listen to the House’s opinion in a few months’ time. There are of course good arguments on both sides—in favour of 600 and in favour of 650. The arguments in favour of 600, of course, relate to reducing the cost of and having a more manageable House, but there are clearly good arguments in favour of 650, not least—
I want to conclude, as other Members want to speak.
Not least among the arguments for 650 is the fact that we in this House will have more work to do when powers return from the European Parliament, where they are currently exercised. We will have that debate in due course.
The Government are being pragmatic and sensible by keeping the door open for this private Member’s Bill until the House makes its decision known. On the fundamental constitutional principle of who initiates expenditure and whether this House acts as a legislature or as an Executive, I think the Government and the Leader of the House are quite right and she enjoys my enthusiastic and unqualified support.
I shall keep my comments brief, as I am aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) needs to respond to this very important debate.
I would like to take at face value the comments made by the Leader of the House about her being a champion for the Chamber. I will not go as far as other Members, but I will say that we have to do far more on the rights of Back-Bench Members to secure new legislation. When I presented my private Member’s Bill to reduce the voting age to 16, it was not the money resolution that blocked it. We had 150-plus MPs present to move a closure motion, but unfortunately the previous Bill was deliberately talked out by the Government. That is very difficult, because the Bill that was considered before mine was legitimate and important, and was on a subject that was very sensitive. How could I object to that? But that tactic is deployed regularly on Bills with broad support in order to frustrate the process a bit further on.
If David Cameron was serious about reducing the cost of politics, it cannot be right that the payroll vote, as it stands, is the biggest since 1979. The number of people who are paid or unpaid members of the Government —Ministers or Parliamentary Private Secretaries—is high, at 21% of the House of Commons. If the number of MPs is reduced to 600, nearly a quarter of all members of the Commons will be on the Government payroll, which will reduce even further the ability of this Chamber to be independent, to hold the Government to account in the way that a democracy ought to, and to have good governance in place because of that.
Every Prime Minister has the right to nominate Members to the House of Lords, and every Prime Minister in my memory has exercised that right, but it is hypocritical to say that the decision to reduce the number of MPs by 50 is about reducing the cost of democracy while in the same breath appointing more Members to the House of Lords. If that proposed change goes through, there will be 215 more Members of the House of Lords than of the House of Commons, so the second Chamber would be significantly bigger than the elected Chamber.
I want to say this in defence of MPs—
I am not going to, just because I have only about a minute left.
In defence of MPs, we ought to be very careful not to downgrade the work we do to represent our constituents. It is all right to say in a flippant way that there could be fewer MPs and the public would not even notice, but what I can say is that in my constituency on a Friday and Saturday there are people who need help. I do not just come to Parliament to make laws; I go back to Oldham to give people support and to help them navigate the system of Government Departments. We do our best. If Member support is part of the cost, it cannot be right for the Government to have it in mind to reduce the number of caseworkers or researchers who support parliamentary activity. MPs have to be given the right support to do the job properly.
The truth is what we will really be saving is the money around the edges—MPs’ salaries and minor travel and accommodation costs—because the staffing contingent, which is the largest budget, will remain the same. Let us be honest about this: it is about gaming the system, in the way that individual voter registration has gamed the system and in the way that we have seen the House of Lords packed—be honest about it, and at least defend it.
With the leave of the House, I thank all Members for their contributions. It has been a wide debate. My Bill has the unanimous support of the House, and the Government should follow the procedures that they have followed and affirmed until recently, and table a money resolution. If they then want to vote against it, they can, but they need to table the money resolution so that we can have a debate. My Bill covers a vital constitutional issue and this cannot happen in the backrooms of Government.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the expectation that the Government brings forward a Money resolution relating to a private Member’s bill which has received a second reading.