House of Commons (Participation) Bill

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 11:54 am on 9th March 2007.

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Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping PPS (Rt Hon Jack Straw, Lord Privy Seal), Leader of the House of Commons 11:54 am, 9th March 2007

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. This Chamber should be the primary Chamber—it elects and throws out the Government: it controls expenditure; and it can use the Parliament Act.

I shall make a wider and different point. Let us consider what would happen if there were two classes of Members of Parliament, and certain MPs could not vote and, in particular, speak on certain issues. If there were a rival Chamber up the Corridor, where Members from across the United Kingdom, however they were elected or selected, were able to speak, there would be a case for people to say, "We are the legitimate Chamber of the United Kingdom, and you Commoners down there are a de facto Parliament for England." That is the threat. I do not say that that situation will arise, but we need to explore the issue.

I have highlighted the points of principle that I wanted to explore, but there are three points of practice about which I am seriously worried. We have already talked about the way in which one defines the territorial extent of legislation. I do not think that that is easy. The House of Commons Library keeps a set of tables and grids on the matter. In the 2005-06 Session, Scotland was fully covered by 23 Bills and significantly covered by three, while it was affected by the minor provisions of five Bills.

Hon. Members have pointed out that the scope and territorial extent of a Bill can change during its passage through Parliament. Lord Baker tackled that problem when he introduced his Bill in another place by saying that one could separate out bits of Bills to distinguish between the English and UK aspects. That sounds simple enough, but the very next sentence in his speech made it clear that the situation was more complex than he had indicated:

"The Speaker can take advice from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council".—[ Hansard, House of Lords, 10 February 2006; Vol. 678, c. 906.]

If the Speaker was unhappy about the definition of the territorial extent, he or she could take advice from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council—the Law Lords—but that hardly seems to be a quick procedure for a Parliament in which decisions are made rapidly. If there was an argument about territorial extent, the Speaker might feel that he or she needed to take advice and thus go to the Law Lords. After the Law Lords had considered the matter, they might decide that they should take evidence. It could take months for a decision to be made, which would be a recipe for inaction and chaos.