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Business of the House

Volume 722: debated on Monday 29 November 2010

Motion on Standing Orders

Moved by

That Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Tuesday 7 December to allow the Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.

My Lords, in light of the extremely unusual amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, it may be helpful if I say a few words to set out the Government’s position.

The Motion in my name seeks the agreement of the House to suspend Standing Order 46 on Tuesday 7 December to allow the remaining stages of the Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill to be taken formally immediately after Second Reading. This is necessary because Standing Order 46 prevents more than one stage of a Bill being taken in any one day. This is a perfectly standard Motion for a Bill that has been certified as a money Bill by Mr Speaker in another place.

The established practice of the House in respect of money Bills is to have a Second Reading debate and then to take the remaining stages formally. Why do we do this? Because the Parliament Act 1911 restricts the powers of the House of Lords in relation to money Bills. Under that Act this House has one calendar month to pass a money Bill without amendment. If it does not do so, the Bill is given Royal Assent without the agreement of this House. If this House passes amendments, the other place, quite properly, totally disregards them if it chooses to do so. This House does not normally go into Committee on a money Bill because there is no point and successive Governments have chosen not to waste the time of the House in this way.

With the agreement of the usual channels, the Government have set aside a whole day for the Second Reading debate next week. Ultimately, it does not matter whether the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie is agreed to; it does not make any difference. We can amend the Bill, re-amend it or reject it outright, but it will become law anyway in exactly its current form. However—and this is the serious part—apparently, after 99 years of this House respecting both the spirit and the letter of the Parliament Act 1911, the Opposition feel that now is the time to change that. In nearly 100 years this House has never seen an opposition challenge to money Bill procedures under the Parliament Act. The House might forgive the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, for inexperience in such matters if he were new to the Front Bench opposite, but until just seven months ago he was a Minister of the Crown. He and his colleagues know exactly how these things should work.

Only last week the House considered two money Bills. The Opposition did not see fit to challenge the certification of Mr Speaker on those Bills. The noble Lord even responded for the Opposition on one of them. There were no Motions on the Order Paper last week—those Bills were taken through their remaining stages formally, in the normal way, after a Second Reading, with the Opposition’s agreement—so the established practice of dealing with money Bills was perfectly acceptable to the Opposition last week, but not, it seems, this week. Indeed, it is even worse than that. The way in which this House deals with money Bills was perfectly acceptable to the Opposition when they were in Government. Between 1997 and 2010, this House considered a total of 64 Bills that were certified as money Bills by Mr Speaker in the other place. Over 40 per cent of them were in the last Parliament alone. We disagreed with many of these Bills; we felt that the financial policies of the party opposite would lead the country to financial ruin, as it almost did, but how many of these Bills were taken through substantive stages after Second Reading, or were subject to a challenge from the then Opposition on grounds of process? None at all. It was not seen as this House’s way of doing things, so why is it seen as the way for us to proceed now?

There is a feeling from this side of the House of, “Here we go again”. The Opposition are clearly set on continuing their procedural mischief-making. A clear pattern has emerged. Back in June we had a Motion to refer the Local Government Bill to the Examiners, two weeks ago we had a similar Motion on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, today we have an unprecedented Motion on a money Bill, and tomorrow yet another unprecedented procedural Motion is due to appear on the Order Paper.

A few weeks ago I asked from this Dispatch Box whether the party opposite wanted to be a serious party of opposition, or whether it wanted to see the kinds of procedural ploys, wheezes and games that we see again today. The answer is becoming increasingly clear—the party opposite would prefer to manufacture time-wasting debates than to get on with the important business of the Public Bodies Bill on today’s Order Paper. They want to make this place like another place: a House that spends hour after hour on procedural debate. I have to tell the noble Lord that this vision for the House is not shared by the majority of noble Lords.

There is no issue, and there is no need to challenge the way in which this House deals with money Bills; this is nothing but an attempt at opportunism. I am sure that noble Lords will see it for what it is, and I beg to move.

Amendment to the Motion

Moved by

As an amendment to the above motion, to leave out from “that” to the end and insert “it is desirable that the Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill should go through its legislative stages in a timetable which allows this House to scrutinise the provisions of the Bill and allows both Houses to pass the Bill without recourse to enactment under section 1 of the Parliament Act 1911”.

My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is to enable your Lordships to have a proper Committee stage of the Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill rather than just the usual, truncated process with, in effect, only a Second Reading, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. Indeed, I thought that the latter part of the noble Lord’s contribution was, frankly, unworthy. I had hoped that he would deal with the issue on the basis of the argument advanced. This is not a wheeze; it is not a ploy; it is not mischief making or opportunism. The amendment would require a timetable in which consideration of the Bill was concluded within one month of its introduction into your Lordships’ House, which in effect means by the time that the Commons rises for Christmas.

The Bill has been certified as a money Bill by the Speaker of the House of Commons. The amendment seeks not to challenge that certification but to deal with the consequences of the Bill’s being so designated. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that we have not sought to do so in similar debates on recent Bills that have gone through your Lordships’ House. Indeed we have not—as he outlined, I participated in such a debate just last week—but this is a different Bill. We are trying to achieve a Committee stage only for the Bill before us.

The noble Lord rightly cited the Parliament Act, but the Companion says:

“If a money bill, which has been passed by the Commons and sent up to the Lords at least one month before the end of a session, is not passed by the Lords without amendment within a month after it is sent to them, the bill shall, unless the Commons direct to the contrary, be presented for Royal Assent without the consent of the Lords. This does not debar the Lords from amending such bills provided they are passed within the month, but the Commons are not obliged to consider the amendments”.

Why on earth the noble Lord seeks to pre-empt what we might do—whether the Bill might be amended if we had a Committee stage, and indeed what the Commons’ reaction to that might be—is a little strange. We do not see the Committee process as having no point.

The Bill will do three things: it will stop any further government contributions to child trust funds; it will end the savings gateway; and it will abolish the health in pregnancy grant. It was somewhat surprising to us that a Bill of this nature was designated as a money Bill, particularly given that the setting up of each of these arrangements was by way of separate primary legislation that included all the usual stages in your Lordships’ House. It was also a surprise to our colleagues in another place. A reading of their proceedings will illustrate their clear belief that there would be the opportunity to continue to advance the argument for some changes to the Bill at this end and, in so far as I can tell, the Minister, Mr Hoban, did not offer a contrary view.

The Bill’s being certified as a money Bill denies this House the full opportunity to bring its knowledge and experience to bear on major matters of social policy concerning poverty, family and child welfare and the health of pregnant women. I do not propose to speak in detail to the range of issues that might be raised in Committee, but I will say that that particularly denies the opportunity to develop and amend how the Bill impacts on looked-after children. For example, the position of looked-after children has been the subject of ongoing discussion, initiated by Paul Goggins MP, about the hiatus between the abolition of child trust funds and the promised introduction of junior ISAs. That is very much work in progress. The discussion, involving the Minister, recognised that looked-after children have only the state or their corporate parent to make the equivalent of parental contributions to these savings vehicles.

As we know, it is often the case that issues emerge during the consideration of legislation in another place. Amendments may be proposed, arguments advanced and rebuffed and then reconsidered and reformulated for consideration here. Knowing that there can be a second bite at the cherry—a chance for some reflection, challenge and consensus building—has proved an important element in improving legislation. We know that some stakeholders are particularly frustrated at knowing late in the day that the House of Commons was possibly their only chance to improve legislation. Noble Lords may have heard from Action for Children, Barnardo’s, the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, Gingerbread and the Family and Parenting Institute. We are seeking the opportunity for the Bill to have a proper Committee stage so that those matters that some consider to be unfinished business can be properly examined. The rules allow it; we know it must be done expeditiously in order not to fall foul of the one-month rule; and we would co-operate in the timely scheduling of the Bill’s stages.

This matter raises a broader issue. As I have made clear, we do not seek to challenge today a certification of the Speaker, but we need to understand it and its possible future ramifications for our deliberations. We understand that this is a money Bill because, although the setting up of child trust funds, the savings gateway and the health in pregnancy grant were matters of policy, a parliamentary measure that only withdraws funding for them is a money Bill, notwithstanding the fact that removing funding involves prioritisation—and therefore policy changes—and will bring to an end these particular policy mechanisms. We fear that such designation paves the way for the Government to rely on the cloak of deficit reduction in a way that would deny your Lordships the opportunity fully to scrutinise swathes of policy, from the withdrawal of education maintenance allowance to changes to the benefits system. That would deny this House what it does best. This is a matter to reflect on both here and in another place.

For today, we simply ask to have the opportunity to have a proper Committee stage on a Bill that has significant social policy ramifications. If we cannot achieve even that, what hope is there for the future? Let me be clear that the amendment seeks not to challenge the Speaker’s decision—the amendment accepts the decision—but to apply to the full, and without expanding, the restricted opportunities available to this House when dealing with a money Bill. The amendment does not seek to frustrate the timetable of the Government. If we do not pass this Bill by Christmas Recess, the Bill will go for Royal Assent anyway. The amendment would not undermine the thrust of the Government’s deficit reduction plan, whatever our disagreement with that plan. This is about us—all parties and none—having a chance to input into important policy changes that will affect the lives of many young people and families. That is, after all, why we are here. I beg to move.

My Lords, I support my noble friend. I do not want to go over the ground that he has laid out on why, on this particular measure, he is not challenging the Speaker’s ruling that this is a money Bill, even though I find it very difficult to understand why a policy established by primary legislation requiring expenditure could then be revoked under the description of a money Bill. I say this because almost every piece of social security legislation could in future fall under the remit of being labelled a money Bill and therefore not available for debate or scrutiny in this House.

Let me give two examples, in which I suggest that this House has more experience and more to offer on this debate than most other agendas, and probably more than the other place. We know, for example, that there is a question over whether the mobility component for people in long-term residential care will be removed. In previous debates my noble friend Lady Wilkins and the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, spoke passionately about that. Such a move would remove money resulting from a policy established in primary legislation back in 1992, by the then Government, which we all supported. Under this precedent, that could be labelled a money Bill, and notwithstanding the expertise of this House in disability matters, about which this House feels very strongly indeed, we would not be permitted to debate it. It not just about this House and about Parliament—hundreds of thousands of disabled people would be affected as a result.

In another example, a week or two ago I led a debate on housing. There were half a dozen of us on these Benches, half a dozen from the Lib Dem Benches, who made very powerful speeches, half a dozen from the Cross Benches, and one person, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, from the Conservative Benches. We analysed forensically the issues associated with changes in housing, and I welcome the fact that the Government appear to be listening to some of those concerns. In future, if this is a precedent, nearly all those issues that we debated would be, and could be, classified as a part of a money Bill and not available for this House to discuss, explore, revise and, if necessary, to ask the other place to think again about.

This is extraordinarily dangerous. There is hardly any piece of government policy that does not involve expenditure. This means that, in theory, almost every piece of policy could be regarded as a money Bill and this House would be denied scrutiny of it. I have given just two examples from social security but it could affect a lot of local government funding as well. I hope that your Lordships will today accept my noble friend’s amendment; and that perhaps consultations could take place between the two Houses to make sure that the other House realises the seriousness of the precedent that could be set, and that we would be walking away from a major part of our responsibility to the public we seek to serve.

My Lords, I am not by any means the longest serving Member of your Lordships’ House but I have been here for 48 years. This is the first time in all of those 48 years that I have heard a challenge to the Speaker’s certification of a Bill as a money Bill. The amendment is quite inappropriate. It seeks to drive another coach and horses through our constitutional protections—so much a feature of the previous Government. The amendment should be quickly withdrawn.

As vice-chair of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Children and Young People In and Leaving Care, I find myself in sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton. The interests of such children and young people need to be considered very carefully. I am concerned that so little time is being allowed to debate the impact of the Bill on these young people. I would grateful to learn from the Minister how it will affect the trust funds for children in care, established by the previous Government, and how the Minister plans to make up for any loss to young people leaving local authority care. Many of us have felt ashamed of our historic treatment of young people in local authority care. It is beyond any doubt that their interests have been overlooked. It was deeply gratifying to see the seriousness with which the previous Government took the welfare of this neglected group and it is encouraging to see the coalition sustaining this.

Ten years ago, only 1 per cent of young people in local authority care went to university. Recent research has highlighted that 8 to 9 per cent are now accessing higher education. That is still disappointing but it is a more than 800 per cent improvement on the past. The lesson is that many of these children can do far better in life than we have allowed. We need to be better at keeping their interests close to our hearts. Given their chaotic early experiences in their families, and often in care, it is vital to offer young people leaving care all the help we can as—we hope—they recover from this chaos and find direction for their lives. That is why the trust fund for children in care is so important to these young people. It helps some of them to make a fresh start and makes up in a small way for the fact that they are often left high and dry, without the support our own children would receive from us.

I support the noble Lord’s amendment. I understand the Minister’s predicament; there is no room for complacency about reducing the deficit. However, we have let these children down too often before by not placing their interests high enough in our priorities. I would welcome information from the Minister on what steps he and his colleagues may be considering to protect the interests of these children once this legislation is passed. A meeting to discuss this would be very welcome.

My Lords, I have some difficulty in understanding the purpose of this amendment. I understand that the Leader of the House has told us that, regardless of what we do in this House, the other place has absolutely no need to take any account of us because this is a money Bill. If it were not a money Bill, I would have some sympathy with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the speakers from the Labour Benches. However, since this is a money Bill, I cannot see what good we can do or why one day would not be sufficient to deal with all these matters. Everybody can—to use a colloquialism—sound off in one day totally effectively when we are dealing with a money Bill.

My Lords, this is a very difficult situation. I am totally convinced that this is not a money Bill and it is disgraceful that it is being presented as such. However, we are faced with a different problem: the certification by the Speaker that it is a money Bill. I fully agree with my noble friend Lady Hollis of Heigham who says that this would set an unfortunate precedent. I fully agree with those who say that this Bill deserves a proper examination in Committee. However, we are faced with a fact, which is that it has been certified as a money Bill.

We should be thinking about whether there is some way in which we can have a proper discussion—perhaps in a Joint Committee—on what a money Bill is, because that is the problem. It is open to abuse if one side says that this is a money Bill and the other side says it is not. We need to have a proper discussion of what a money Bill is and get it settled once and for all.

My Lords, it might be useful if I added a few thoughts from the Government Front Bench. I totally respect all of those who spoke in favour of the Bill and those who had problems on issues with the Bill. At some moments it sounded as if we had already started the Second Reading of the Bill rather than dealing with the Motion on the Order Paper. I have no detailed view on the different aspects of the Bill. The right time to deal with those would be on Second Reading.

The point in my introduction was made—if I may say so—far more ably by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. It does not matter if we have this Committee stage. In the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, we can explore, we can advise, we can amend, we can even reject, and we can ask the House of Commons to think again. The House of Commons is under no obligation whatever to deal with any of these issues. That is the nub of my argument. There is no point doing any of these things because it is a waste of our time. Let us spend our precious time on things that are useful and have an impact rather than on those that do not. I have very little further to add and in light of what I and others have said, I call upon the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, it is quite clear—to me at any rate—that there is a genuine issue here. One could argue whether the Speaker should or should not have certified it. The fact is that he did certify it and, therefore, certain consequences flow from that, which I accept. However, the danger as it is perceived, certainly by me, and, I suspect, by many on this side, is that that certification will become too gross, happen too often and be too restrictive as far as this House is concerned.

This issue is important in relation to this Bill. However, it is even more important in relation to a whole host of other Bills coming up. If one wishes to certify something as a money Bill, you can invariably find some excuse for doing so, as my noble friend Lady Hollis said. There is no point in the noble Lord shaking his head. He knows that as well as I do. So I ask him very simply: can he put his considerable weight behind an attempt to get some clarification on what is or is not a money Bill by negotiations or discussions between this House and the other place? Otherwise, we will have this issue coming up again and again, which would be extraordinarily unhealthy.

My question has a bearing on what the noble Lord, Lord Richard, has just said. Does the Speaker in another place make a decision entirely on his own or with legal advice from the Clerks in the House of Commons?

My question is very much along the same lines. It goes to the root of the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. Is she right when she says that the mere fact of a Bill involving public expenditure makes it possible for it to be certified as a money Bill? If that is so, then it is extremely serious and of massive constitutional relevance.

Is it then the case—I do not have the wording of the 1911 Act before me—that since 1911 it has been a matter of restraint not to certify possibly thousands of Bills that might have been money Bills but for good reason have not been so regarded? Am I right in thinking that although the 1911 Act very considerably curtails the effect of any amendment made by this House, there is not one word in it that suggests that we should not discuss a money Bill?

My Lords, that is precisely why the Government have allocated a whole day for discussion and debate on this Bill. There will be a very full Second Reading day on it, especially given this debate. It is right that this House’s voice should be heard, but it cannot be heard more than the Parliament Act 1911 allows. This is so well precedented over the past 99 years that even I, who like history and historical anecdotage in the House of Lords, find this whole debate extraordinary.

The noble Countess, Lady Mar, and the noble Lord asked about the Speaker’s role in all this. Parliament Acts are a long-standing part of the constitutional settlement of the United Kingdom. Under the Parliament Act 1911, Mr Speaker is under a statutory duty to certify a Bill a money Bill if, in his opinion, it contains provisions dealing with national taxation, public money, loans or their management. The important words there are “a statutory duty”. It is not a choice; Mr Speaker has no discretion in the matter. That goes to answer the point of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who gave the impression that somehow there was discretion in this matter, and that I could say to the Speaker, “On balance, old boy, could you certify rather fewer money Bills?”. That is not the case. It is done on advice given by Mr Speaker’s Clerks on the basis of a statutory provision. The decision to certify this Bill a money Bill is taken entirely by Mr Speaker in another place. We accept the consequences of that because of the 1911 Act and all the precedents that have been set over the past 100 years. In my opening speech, I talked about the 60-odd money Bills that have arisen in the past 13 years. The outrage on the part of noble Lords opposite is extraordinary given that, seven months ago, they were sitting on this side of the House but never once did they scratch their heads and say, “These money Bills are a bit odd. We really should repeal the 1911 Act”.

I do not dispute the fact that, when in government, we issued a number of Bills that were money Bills; I think the noble Lord said that there were 30. However, the difference is that we knew that a Bill had been certified a money Bill before it ended its legislative process in the House of Commons. Can the noble Lord tell me the last occasion on which a Bill was certified a money Bill at the very end of its legislative process in the House of Commons? That is a big distinction, as the House of Commons understood that this Bill would go through all its legislative process in this Chamber.

My Lords, I am very happy to answer questions on this from other noble Lords as well, if they so wish. However, I find it very difficult to help the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition on this matter. It is as if noble Lords assume that I had greater knowledge than I have of what decisions were being taken in another place on the certification of money Bills, or when the decision was taken. My understanding is that it is a decision not of the Government but of Mr Speaker, taken on advice from his Clerks. I dare say that the stage at which he makes that decision is up to the internal procedures of another place. The point about this House is that we have to deal with the effects of the decision that has been taken in another place. We have no discretion in the matter. If it is certified a money Bill, a money Bill it is. If it is a money Bill, whatever we do to it matters not a jot because another place can ignore that comprehensively.

Will the noble Lord ensure, not just as leader of the government party, but as Leader of the whole House, that future legislation, such as social security legislation, will not come up here with the imprimatur that means that we cannot discuss disability issues and the like?

My Lords, it is very hard to answer that question as Leader of the whole House without looking back in the mists of time at the reasons for the 1911 Act. The reason we have had the privilege of dealing with monetary and taxation legislation is in the history of 100 years ago. With the best will in the world, I have no intention of reopening that any more than any of my predecessors have done over the last 99 years.

My Lords, I suppose it was because Mr Speaker was not advised by his Clerks that it was a money Bill. If it had been a money Bill, we would have disposed of it rather more quickly than we did.

My Lords, this debate has been interesting, but mostly not about the substance of the amendment that was moved. Most noble Lords, I think, were exercised about the definition of a money Bill. I made clear when I moved my amendment that, except for the purposes of the amendment, it has been certified a money Bill, and I do not seek to challenge that, as the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, suggested.

On the definition of a money Bill, the preamble to the bit about taxation et cetera talks about measures that contain “only provisions dealing with” certain issues. One of the points that arise from this particular example is whether the ability to corral a few things that are only about taxation, and not to have them as you might naturally otherwise have them—as part of a broader Bill—opens up the possibility of getting more money Bills certified than would otherwise be the case. However, I agree with the range of speakers—the noble Lords, Lord Richard, Lord Grenfell and Lord Elystan-Morgan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis—who say that it would be good to have some sort of process to try and better understand when a money Bill is a money Bill and what the rules are that apply to that.

The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said that this is all a waste of time and that it is pointless, but if he read the 2007 version of the Companion, he would see that paragraph 7.189, on money Bills, says:

“On a few occasions minor amendments have been made by the Lords to such bills and have been accepted by the Commons”.

This presumption that it is all a waste of time, that nothing could ever happen that could change the Bill, is simply not the case. Even if it were, if it was felt that matters should be pressed on the Government in relation to a Bill, why should we not avail ourselves of the opportunity to do so? I stress that my amendment does not seek to change the rules at all or to say that the House of Commons Speaker was wrong in certifying it as a money Bill; it merely seeks to take advantage of what the Companion enables us to do as a House.

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said that she did not understand if this did not lead anywhere. In any event—this is the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, as well—we will have a full day on a Second Reading debate. However, there is a difference between a debate on the Bill at Second Reading and in Committee, as all noble Lords know. The Committee stage is an iterative process, a chance to press the Minister in detail on a range of points. A one-day Second Reading does not provide the same facility. It provides an opportunity for some broad debate but not for the detailed scrutiny that we believe this Bill requires.

As ever, my noble friend Lady Hollis got it absolutely right; if we do not take this opportunity to try to secure at least a Committee stage on this money Bill, what hope is there for dealing with a raft of very profound provisions coming down the track that the Government would corral in such a way that the Speaker would designate them money Bills?

I believe that the Deputy Chief Whip wishes to speak.

My Lords, we have a medical emergency in one of the Division Lobbies. I beg to move that the House do now adjourn for 10 minutes.

Sitting suspended.

My Lords, in the circumstances, it is time to bring this to a close. I do so by reiterating that my amendment is not about challenging the decision of the Speaker—it accepts it. It simply seeks to take the full range of opportunities, in so far as they exist, to scrutinise this Bill, given that it is and has been designated a money Bill. It does not frustrate the Government’s timetable because, if we do not get it through within a month of arrival in your Lordships’ House, it goes for Royal Assent in any event.

Given the substance of the Bill, this is a very small ask of your Lordships’ House, and I believe we ought to take this opportunity to have a full Committee stage on this Bill. Given the debate, I beg leave to test the opinion of the House.

Motion agreed.