Government of Wales Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

– in the House of Commons at 3:36 pm on 27th February 2006.

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Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Office of the Secretary of State for Wales 3:36 pm, 27th February 2006

I beg to move,

That the Order of 9th January 2006 (Government of Wales Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:

1. Paragraphs 6 to 8 shall be omitted.

2. Proceedings on consideration and Third Reading shall be completed in two days.

3. Proceedings on consideration shall be taken on each of those days as shown in the first column of the Table and in the order so shown.

4. Each part of those proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in relation to it in the second column of the Table.

5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on the second day.

First Day
Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings
Amendments relating to Clauses 1 and 2, Schedule 1 and Clauses 3 to 22. Two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this Order.
Amendments relating to Clauses 23 to 27, Schedule 2 and Clauses 28 to 44. The moment of interruption.
Second Day
Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings
Amendments relating to Clauses 45 to 58, Schedule 3, Clauses 59 to 87, Schedule 4, Clauses 88 to 93, Schedule 5, Clauses 94 to 102, Schedule 6, Clauses 103 to 107, Schedule 7, Clauses 108 to 144, Schedule 8, Clauses 145 to 148, Schedule 9, Clauses 149 to 159, Schedule 10, Clauses 160 and 161, Schedule 11, Clause 162, Schedule 12 and Clauses 163 to 165; new Clauses and new Schedules; any other proceedings on the Bill. One and a half hours before the moment of interruption.

The programme motion seeks to ensure adequate debate on parts of the Bill that have attracted amendments to be considered on Report. It follows three days in Committee on the Floor of the House, during which the Bill received thorough and detailed scrutiny, particularly of the parts that are genuinely new enhanced primary powers and of proposals for reforming the electoral system.

The House will be aware that 93 of the 165 clauses are based closely on sections of the Government of Wales Act 1998. A further 48 clauses relate to the separation of the legislature from the Executive, a policy that has all-party support. Only 24 clauses are concerned with the new provisions relating to the Assembly's enhanced—and, subject to a referendum, primary—legislative powers. It was thus right and proper for the House to focus on scrutinising parts of the Bill that are novel and which it has not previously considered, while devoting less time to aspects that have cross-party support, such as the separation of the Executive and the legislature.

Despite the points that I have just made, the House will recall that at the end of the Committee, Mrs. Gillan objected on a point of order that the House had been unable to scrutinise 133 clauses. Consequently, she asked for more time for consideration in Committee. The House will want to note that at no time was such a request made through the usual channels. Indeed, an intervention from the shadow Leader of the House, Mrs. May, on 26 January was the only suggestion of any kind from the official Opposition that more time might be needed. That point was raised through the usual channels immediately afterwards, yet even then the Opposition did not press a request for more time.

The programme motion for the Committee was agreed with cross-party support. Furthermore, consideration of the Bill was organised to ensure that the House concentrated its scrutiny on provisions that were genuinely new, or controversial. The House will recall that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham expressed particular concern that there was no opportunity for the House to scrutinise the "extremely complex financial provisions" of the Bill, so I was extremely surprised to see that not a single Conservative amendment has been tabled on those provisions on Report. I should be interested to hear the hon. Lady's explanation of that apparent oversight.

The programme motion seeks to guarantee that the amendments on outstanding issues of contention receive appropriate scrutiny. If accepted, the programme motion will ensure that amendments relating to parts 1 and 2, which deal with the legal separation between the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government, will be considered on the first day of consideration on Report. Although some of the provisions that relate to the Assembly's electoral arrangements have been debated in Committee, some of the remaining provisions in parts 1 and 2 have not yet been scrutinised by the House and have attracted amendments. We have therefore sought to ensure that those amendments that have been selected receive adequate time.

Day 2 will allow the consideration of the provisions in parts 3 to 6. The provisions in parts 3 and 4 that relate to Assembly measures and Acts of the Assembly received detailed consideration in Committee. The programme motion will ensure that amendments relating to those parts that have been selected for consideration and those relating to the remaining parts of the Bill will receive an appropriate amount of time for debate.

In conclusion, the programme motion will ensure that the debates on Report and Third Reading will address all parts of the Bill where amendments have been tabled and selected. I commend the programme motion to the House.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Secretary of State for Wales 3:40 pm, 27th February 2006

I will not take up the House's time at great length for the simple reason that the way in which the programme motion has been drafted means that every minute we spend discussing it takes time from the debate on the first two groups of amendments, where the Government have so thoughtfully inserted a guillotine after two hours. I presume, of course, that the insertion of that guillotine has nothing to do with any meeting that may take place outwith the Chamber, but we must ask ourselves why a programme motion is on the Order Paper today, when there have been no such guillotines throughout the consideration of the Bill.

The junior Minister is right: I did object to the fact that 133 clauses have not been discussed. Therefore, on past record, it hardly seems worth while even to table amendments to the financial provisions, because we can be assured that there will be no opportunity to discuss them in the limited time available on Report and Third Reading.

I do not want to rerun old battles, but it was correct that we asked for more time on the Floor of the House at business questions. I had believed that matters brought to the attention of the Leader of the House on the Floor of the House would be taken seriously. He did not even bother to respond; nor did he write to my right hon. Friend Mrs. May afterwards to explain why no time could be given to the Bill. In fact, I think that it was suggested at one stage that we could debate more of Bill in Committee upstairs to enable us to discuss it fully. After all, is not this the Bill that the Secretary of State for Wales has described as settling the business of devolution for a generation? Therefore, is it right that such a large part of it should remain undebated in the Chamber?

The junior Minister's assertion that 93 clauses are based loosely on the original Bill is correct, but that does not mean that they should not be revisited; otherwise why would the Secretary of State be placing the whole Bill once again before the House for scrutiny? I hope that that was not a vain attempt to slip the Bill past the House, with any laxity as far as hon. Members' ability to scrutinise the Bill is concerned.

The time given to the debate on Third Reading is derisory: one and a half hours on a main constitutional Bill. I can only presume that the Labour party once more assumes that very few Labour Members from Wales will participate in the debate and that not too many contributions are expected to the Third Reading debate. The Bill has been notable for the fact that very few Labour Members who sit for Welsh seats have taken an enormously active part in it, which is a great shame.

Without further ado and not wanting to take any more of the House's time, I am afraid to say that I have major objections to the programme motion, and I will ask my colleagues to vote against it.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, Welsh Affairs 3:43 pm, 27th February 2006

I am slightly surprised by the Conservative position on the programme motion. [Interruption.] Mrs. Gillan says that she tried to ring me, but I was in Leicester, talking to my mum. Apparently, my three leadership candidates are also visiting my mother. I will have words to say about that later. Nevertheless, the concern is that she needed to speak not just with me but with the House before we voted on the programme motion initially.

I do not want to make a very big thing of this, but I personally feel that if I support a programme motion, I am obliged to try to make it work. I certainly do not feel that I am in a position to come back and condemn the Government for a decision with which I originally concurred. The inference is that I made the same judgment as the Government on that occasion, which is why I supported the programme motion. I am sorry to say this because I have a lot of respect for the hon. Lady, but it feels a bit dog-in-the-manger to make a dramatic point of order at the end of the Committee stage to attempt to gain party political points in an environment in which we had considerable differences of view about the content of the Bill, but, to the best of my knowledge, a collective responsibility to make the timings work.

The hon. Lady also asked why there are guillotines now. I do not think that she needs to look very far. Surely the Government, having been criticised in Committee for not having gone through the business, are bound to take away some of our latitude to operate autonomously. I cite the example of Northern Ireland legislation, which is continuously controversial, often involves constitutional matters and is extremely divisive to the House. Nevertheless, the Whip who is usually in charge of the business, Mr. Coaker, manages to secure a collective responsibility even at times when, for example, we underestimate the number of hours required in Committee. That occurred with the Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, which was so controversial that the Government eventually withdrew it. However, there were no complaints about the timings, even though it became patently obvious to both sides that we had underestimated the time that we needed in Committee.

Although I have never been that persuaded about the principle of programming, I have to accept that, in today's environment, the House collectively, on a cross-party basis, has decided to impose programme motions from time to time, and this is one of those occasions. In the context of what we are considering today and tomorrow, it seems reasonable of the Government to have included the guillotines to ensure that important legislation is discussed.

I appeal to all hon. Members and the Minister to ensure that we are sufficiently concise to handle the issues in the time available, because I agree with the hon. Lady that it would be a shame if any of the strings of amendments were abandoned through lack of time. That does not need to happen. We can rehearse the arguments concisely and effectively enough to get through everything that is to be debated, including the controversial elements. For that reason, if the hon. Lady insists on dividing the House, although I am lukewarm about programme motions, I will have little option other than to defend the Government.

Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 279, Noes 148.

Division number 171

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly agreed to.