The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: Ms Nadine Dorries, †Albert Owen
† Allan, Lucy (Telford) (Con)
Bone, Mr Peter (Wellingborough) (Con)
† Charalambous, Bambos (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)
† Fletcher, Colleen (Coventry North East) (Lab)
† Foster, Kevin (Torbay) (Con)
Harper, Mr Mark (Forest of Dean) (Con)
† Khan, Afzal (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab)
† Lee, Karen (Lincoln) (Lab)
† Linden, David (Glasgow East) (SNP)
Mills, Nigel (Amber Valley) (Con)
† Norris, Alex (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
Paisley, Ian (North Antrim) (DUP)
† Smith, Cat (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab)
† Smith, Chloe (Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office)
Stewart, Bob (Beckenham) (Con)
Wiggin, Bill (North Herefordshire) (Con)
Kenneth Fox, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Wednesday 16 May 2018
[Albert Owen in the Chair]
Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill
Order. Before we begin, I remind Members to please switch their electronic devices to silent. Teas and coffees are not allowed during the sitting.
I beg to move, That the sittings resolution of 9 May be amended as follows:
That, if proceedings on the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill are not completed at this day’s sitting, the Committee shall meet at 9.30 am on Wednesdays on which the House sits.
Question put and agreed to.
We will now move to the motion to adjourn, as the Committee cannot consider the clauses of the Bill until the House has agreed a money resolution.
I beg to move, That the Committee do now adjourn.
I thank everyone for gathering here again. I will not make the same speech that I have already made twice. Despite my ongoing efforts since the last time we met, there is still no sign of a money resolution. The Government are making a mockery of the private Member’s Bill process, pursuing electoral interests over the interests of democracy.
The Procedure Committee has carried out a number of inquiries into the private Member’s Bill process and has consistently argued that the current system is insufficiently transparent, and that it is too easy for a small number of MPs or the Government to stop any Bills that they disagree with. This is a perfect example of such an abuse of process. I will continue to press the Government, and I propose that the Committee continues to meet on Wednesday mornings, to show that we are ready to debate and scrutinise the Bill in the open, as soon as the Government allow us to do so.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. It is of course the case that the Government have refused to table a money resolution, notwithstanding that the House gave the Bill its Second Reading and has delegated us to consider it in Committee. Previous Committee sittings have been rather short, which suggests that the Government have no interest in legislative scrutiny or in the Bill.
Given the contempt that the Government have shown towards the House, it will be helpful to remind them of some of its conventions. Members may wish to bear with me, because I intend to take some time to go through certain aspects of “Erskine May”. I hope that the Minister was not planning to leave the room in the next few minutes, because she will not be able to.
Page 535 of “Erskine May”, on proceedings on public Bills in the House of Commons, states:
“In the House of Commons, there are three ways in which a bill may be introduced…It may be brought in upon an order of the House…It may be presented without an order under the provisions of Standing Order No 57(1)…It may be brought in from the House of Lords.”
On Bills founded upon financial resolutions, it states:
“The procedure for the introduction of bills upon financial resolutions is now most commonly exemplified by Consolidated Fund Bills—”
as explained on pages 740 and 741 of “Erskine May”—
“which are founded upon Supply resolutions, and by Finance Bills and other taxing bills, which are founded upon Ways and Means resolutions.”
Order. I remind the hon. Member that reading from a book is not permitted in Committee proceedings. He may summarise “Erskine May” and advise us of his counsel, but he must not read verbatim.
Thank you, Mr Owen. I appreciate that clarification. I will come back to certain aspects of the rules. The substance of the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton is to make sure that Parliament has the ability to scrutinise legislation. Obviously, we are leaving the European Union, which means that huge swathes of legislation will be coming back to the House. The idea that we should reduce the number of Members in the House who are able to scrutinise that legislation simply beggars belief. We have not seen proposals from the Government to reduce the number of Members on the payroll vote—that is, Parliamentary Private Secretaries and, indeed, Ministers. The Government are showing contempt for the House. They should seriously consider tabling a money resolution, but I do not know whether the Minister is even paying attention at the moment.
On money resolutions, there certainly is precedent for the way in which the Government have, to be frank, been taking the mickey. I do not know what kind of respect the Government are showing this House by not tabling a money resolution. We regularly talk about Parliament taking back control, the will of Parliament and parliamentary sovereignty, yet even though the House voted for this Bill to proceed to Committee stage, we are not able to discuss it.
We can continue the charade of coming to this Committee twice a week, pretending that we are taking proposed legislation seriously and scrutinising it, but that makes a mockery of this place. If the Minister plans to simply sit there and diddle away on her phone and read her papers for the coming Cabinet Office questions—if that is how she wants to treat this House—that is her prerogative. Those of us who come here to treat Parliament with respect, however, who have been sent here to represent our constituents and the will of the people, will attend this Committee week in, week out, and we can go on for as long as she likes. If the Government do not table a money resolution, I will not hesitate to come back with much longer speeches—they might not be based on “Erskine May”—until such time as they do so.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I just want to make a couple of points. As a new Member, I feel I have much to learn. I was really pleased to hear the hon. Member for Glasgow East reading from that book, because I found it really useful. I agree with all his comments. This seems a mockery of the process. When I speak to people in my constituency and tell them that, they agree.
Finally—I have made this point a number of times—I find it quite rude when hon. Members do not listen to what others are saying and sit looking at their phones or doing their papers when we should be dealing with the business at hand.
On the matter of devices, Mr Speaker’s ruling is that they are to be put on silent, but they are allowed. If some Members do not want them here, they can leave them outside.
As one of the new intake of MPs in 2017, I am still getting to grips with how decisions are made and how futile the attempts of Back Benchers to get things done can be. I was told that Back Benchers could get something to become law by promoting a private Member’s Bill. Getting a First Reading is hard enough, but it is not insurmountable. Getting a Second Reading is nigh on impossible, because unless one is lucky enough to get into the top 20 in the private Member’s Bill draw, one is unlikely to get sufficient time to debate the issue. Even if sufficient time is granted, at least 100 MPs have to be present on one of the 13 allotted Fridays and then a majority of those voting have to vote for the Bill. To get to a Second Reading is a tall order.
At present there are 58 private Members’ Bills scheduled for the next sitting Friday on 15 June; 25 for Friday 6 July; 23 for Friday 26 October; and 18 for Friday 23 November. That is a total of 103 private Member’s Bills, the vast majority of which will never get a Second Reading, due to the lack of parliamentary time. When a private Member’s Bill does get through its Second Reading with a majority in the House on a Friday, surely the Government should respect the will of Parliament and grant a money resolution to allow the Bill to progress.
Earlier this morning, I looked up “money resolutions” on the Parliament website, which defines it as follows:
“A Money resolution must be agreed to by the House of Commons if a new Bill proposes spending public money on something that hasn’t previously been authorised by an Act of Parliament.
Money resolutions, like Ways and Means resolutions, are normally put to the House for agreement immediately after the Bill has passed its Second reading in the Commons.”
I ask hon. Members to note the word “immediately”.
The Bill passed its Second Reading on 1 December 2017. Five and a half months have passed and the Government are undemocratically disrespecting the will of Parliament, trying to smother this Bill by not granting a money resolution. This is a flagrant abuse of the customs and practices of this Parliament, as the hon. Member for Glasgow East has said. It is an attack on the processes of parliamentary democracy and on the few chances that Back Benchers have to influence and make changes. Parliament is not just the Government. The Government need to think very carefully about their disrespect for parliamentary democracy. Back Benchers need to be heard and respected.
I want to put on the record that the contents of the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton have yet to be discussed in Committee because of the Government’s failure to table a money resolution. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, they have had five and half months to do so and give us the opportunity to discuss the Bill.
The content of the Bill gained wide consensus across the House five and half months ago, passing its Second Reading by 229 votes to 44. I have previously raised this point: this is about the will of Parliament. A lot has happened since the 2018 boundary review, which the Bill seeks to replace. The 2018 review started before we even had the EU referendum, and the number of people on the electoral roll has increased significantly.
The current boundary review, which will come back to the House in October, uses the figures from December 2015, when there were 44.7 million people, compared with the 46.8 million people recorded this year. Those are 2 million people whose voices will not be heard in the current proposed boundary review but which could be heard if my hon. Friend’s Bill had a money resolution. We could then discuss the Bill and gain cross-party consensus, because there is huge will across the House to do so.
We want an accurate electoral roll to decide the boundaries for this House. That is incredibly important post the Brexit referendum, which means we will lose Members of the European Parliament. The idea of losing them at the same time as we lose 50 MPs, while maintaining the size of the Government payroll, is a slap in the face to democracy. It hands more power to Government and less power to the people, which is the exact opposite of the wide consensus of what Brexit was about in the first place. We want an accurate electoral roll to draw our boundaries.
We also want power to be given to Parliament. By not tabling a money resolution, the Government have shown contempt and denied us the opportunity to debate the Bill. They have not respected the, to be frank, limited powers of Back Benchers to introduce legislation. I hope the Minister will be able to offer us more today than she managed at our previous sitting.
Does the Minister wish to respond?
A number of Members have made their point. The Government need to be much clearer. The will of the House is that we should debate this matter. Whatever arguments there are for the Bill, that is what needs to happen, not the withholding of a money resolution. The Minister does not wish to say anything now but maybe next week she can seek counsel from other senior Ministers and bring more clarity, so that at least we do not waste our time in coming here, and she can show some respect to Members.
On a point of order, Mr Owen. This Committee has been set up by the House because a majority of hon. Members voted for it. What provisions and opportunities are available to hon. Members to put on the record that a Government Minister has come to this Committee and said absolutely nothing about a Bill that has been supported by the democratically elected House of Commons?
The hon. Gentleman knows that he has already put that on the record by asking that question. It is on the record of this Committee that Members either contributed or did not wish to contribute to the debate.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly till Wednesday 23 May at half-past Nine o’clock.