Schedule 5 — Repeals

Political Parties and Elections Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:00 pm on 2nd March 2009.

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Amendments made 42, in page 47, line 12 at end insert—

'In section 76A(2), the word "or" at the end of paragraph (c).'.

Amendment 43, in page 47 leave out lines 13 and 14.

Amendment 30, in page 47, line 18 at end insert—

'In section 149(1), the word "or" at the end of paragraph (c).'.— (Mr. Wills.)
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Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have been experimenting this evening with a procedure that is unfamiliar to almost anyone in the House or outside, but, once a new clause has been given a Second Reading, is it not normal for it to be added to the Bill and for the opportunity for a Division to be taken? Given that we are now on Third Reading, has that procedure been followed?

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Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Not after 9 o'clock, when the timetable has come into effect. I understand that there is some concern in the House, although the procedures that have been followed are usual in every way if one looks at the terms of the programme motion that the House adopted. Sometimes, hon. Members may be surprised, if not disappointed.

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Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether it is possible to say whether the Speaker could be a little more open about decisions when they are surprising and unusual. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] Let me use a different word. Would it be possible for the Deputy Speaker to explain more clearly why a decision is made when that decision is somewhat unusual?

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Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman is experienced enough to know that the Chair does not give reasons for the decision, and that has always been the traditional position of the Chair.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On the matter of the new clause that was moved earlier— [ Interruption ] It was voted on without being moved, but we had only one vote. Would you be kind enough to look at page 623 of "Erskine May"? It says very clearly:

"The last question proposed by the Speaker is, 'That the clause (or the clause as amended) be added to the bill'".

May I also draw your attention to the fact that there have been two programme motions—on 20 October last year and 9 February this year—neither of which changed that ruling in "Erskine May" or the Standing Orders? May I ask you for your considered ruling, or that of Mr. Speaker tomorrow, that might determine that we have voted on the first part of a procedure that could have added a new clause to the Bill but not on the second part and therefore that that new clause has not been added to the Bill?

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Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

I can give the hon. Gentleman a ruling straight away. What has happened is entirely clear. Once the knife has fallen at 9 o'clock, a single question is all that is required. That is the procedure, which the House has followed.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. [ Interruption. ] I am sorry to weary the House with this boring bit of procedure, which involves whether we debate a matter before it is added to a Bill, but does not that procedure specify that it relates to all Government amendments and new clauses, and was this not a Back Bencher's amendment or new clause, which is quite different?

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Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

There is a distinction between the amendments and new clauses proposed by the Government and all other amendments. Again, the programme specifies what is to happen. If the hon. Gentleman looks at that, it will be quite clear. I am not without advice on this, but nothing has happened this evening that is in any way different, as far as I am aware, from any previous occasion. We have followed the terms of the programme motion, which is not, in itself, essentially different from many of the programme motions that have come before the House.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to proceed only because it is fundamentally important that the House decides collectively the rules that we apply to Back Benchers and Opposition Members and new clauses. I asked earlier whether anyone could cite a precedent for a debate and a decision to add a new clause that had not been discussed on Report, and I am told that there is no precedent—certainly, nothing that anyone can cite to me. I have looked at the Standing Orders. I have looked in the programme motions that govern the Bill. Is it not normally the case that, where those things are silent, the Speaker or the acting Speaker in the Chair rules in favour of the existing procedure, not a new procedure? May I ask you and your colleagues to reflect between now and tomorrow on whether we have unwittingly broken the rules and whether we can therefore ensure that the new clause introduced by Dr. Lewis, but not moved, has an opportunity for debate during later proceedings?

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Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

I should first say that the term "acting Speaker" is certainly not in the Standing Orders.

Standing Order 83E(2)(c) speaks of

"The question on any amendment, new clause or new schedule selected by the Speaker for separate decision".

That is clear. Subsection (3) states:

"On a motion made for a new clause or a new schedule, the Speaker shall put only the question that the clause or schedule be added to the bill."

I do not believe that there is any further scope for argument about that matter; otherwise, I would tell the hon. Gentleman— [ Interruption. ] I have told him—I have done so on advice—that no breach in procedure has occurred during this evening's proceedings. I hope that he will accept that ruling from the Chair and not ask further questions. If he seeks to challenge what has been said, I suggest he write a letter to Mr. Speaker, but I do not believe that anything incorrect has taken place at any stage this evening.

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Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You were correct in saying that the decision taken is that the new clause be added to the Bill if that is moved, but it was not in my hearing that any hon. Member anywhere in the House moved that that new clause be added to the Bill. I do not think that it was in the Clerk's hearing, but I am sure that you will be advised if it was. I do not think that it was in the hearing of the Deputy Speaker who was in the Chair at the time. I never heard those words used. I do not know whether anyone did.

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Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Again, as far as my advice goes—I was not in the Chair at that moment—Dr. Lewis moved the Question on the new clause, on which the House voted.

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Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Shadow Minister (Defence)

On a separate point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is there any way in which, within the rules, I can place on the record the fact that although both the Government and the Opposition treated this free vote as a free vote, the Liberal Democrats whipped all their Members to vote one way?

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Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not think that is a matter on which the hon. Gentleman—or, indeed, the House—should want me to rule. I think it is absolutely clear that there was a vote on Dr. Lewis's new clause, which the Chair accepted. It was a single vote, and I do not think anyone could have been in any doubt about what was happening at that time. [Interruption.] I have given my advice to Simon Hughes. He is an experienced Member of the House, and if he is disputing what has happened this evening I suggest he write to Mr. Speaker, because there is now very little time left for the Secretary of State to move Third Reading, which I now call on him to do.

Third Reading

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice 9:51 pm, 2nd March 2009

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

In the short time available to me, I wish to place on record my thanks to all those on both sides of the House who have worked to make this Bill better. It began its journey as a set of proposals in a White Paper, which I brought before the House in June last year. It was introduced on 17 July, and there was then a three-month period over the summer break for Members to consider it. Its Second Reading was on 20 October, it moved upstairs into Committee in November and it has been back on the Floor of the House on two days—in February and now in early March.

The Bill is now different from the Bill that was published on First Reading, and it has, in our judgment, been improved. One of the reasons why we have had to take time over it, and in some cases introduce amendments at quite a late stage, is that we have been listening with great care to representations made on both sides. We have sought wherever we can to improve the Bill, and I believe that it has been improved.

The provenance of the Bill goes back to the establishment of the Hayden Phillips inquiry more than three years ago. That time scale is similar to that of the original Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. The reason why that Act and this Bill have taken so much time is twofold. First, party funding is inherently complicated—we have just had a little introduction to that. Secondly, and more importantly, from whatever perspective Members may start debating—and it can sometimes be very partisan—they have in general been careful to recognise the importance of not seeking partisan advantage in the regime for party funding and elections. That was certainly the approach I took in 1999 and 2000 in respect of what became the 2000 Act, and I have taken the same approach on this occasion.

In the Bill, we have achieved major reform of the Electoral Commission and important reforms in respect of donations and expenditure, including by establishing an upgraded regime for unincorporated associations. We have also achieved significant advances in respect of electoral registration.

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Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

Does the Secretary of State not agree that what we are passing tonight is nothing other than a complete mouse of a Bill? All the public's concerns about cuts in political donations and about trade union funding have been totally ignored. Should we not be ashamed of ourselves tonight for passing such a timid Bill?

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

That was not an intervention about Third Reading; it was merely a rant, and we shall leave it at that.

On electoral registration, I repeat the point made by the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend Mr. Wills. I appreciate the concern that there will not have been a chance to discuss the new clauses on registration in this place. I shall therefore make two commitments. First, we shall use our best endeavours to have them discussed informally in draft with the parties before they go to the other place and, secondly, we shall use our best endeavours with the usual channels to ensure that there is adequate time to discuss them when they return. With that, I commend that the Bill be read the Third time.

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Photo of Francis Maude Francis Maude Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 9:55 pm, 2nd March 2009

Tonight's episode has been a pretty unseemly end to what I believe the Justice Secretary will admit has not been a particularly glorious legislative process that the Bill has gone through in this House. The Bill started life in autumn last year as a thoroughly partisan measure designed to achieve—let us face it—political advantage. The policy goals were exceptionally poorly thought through, leaving the unfortunate parliamentary draftsman an impossible task. The main provisions attracted significant criticism from all sides; the Electoral Commission pointed out that a number went well beyond what it had sought and that other provisions provided no benefit and had a significant downside. All the political parties, including his own, attacked several of the Bill's original provisions.

The storm of obloquy that the Bill attracted prompted the Secretary of State to return, belatedly, to the path of discussion and common sense, even if consensus was not achieved in all matters. The requirement to verify the source of donations was sensibly dropped, the powers for the Electoral Commission were sensibly trimmed back and the thoroughly partisan proposal to reintroduce triggering was dropped; the Bill is completely different from what was introduced in the autumn of last year. This has been achieved much less by dint of having full and open debate in the Commons—in this House and in Committee—because of the rigidity of the programme motion that was introduced, which allowed very little scope for the sort of matters that my hon. Friend Dr. Lewis raised this evening and has led to what most of the House would recognise to have been a fairly unseemly process.

The Bill is a massive missed opportunity to deal with the big donor culture by having a genuine across-the-board cap on donations.

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Photo of Francis Maude Francis Maude Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I do not have time to give way. The Liberal Democrats have occupied enough air time tonight and I am certainly not going to give them any more.

There was a real opportunity to put together a cap that would have applied to all donations, including those to political parties from trade union affiliation fees. At some stage these issues will need to be addressed thoroughly. Every effort should be made at all times to seek consensus on these matters.

I am glad that at the eleventh hour the Government have, at last, agreed to move ahead with individual voter registration, albeit in what still seems to be a lamentably leisurely time scale. They committed to the principle of individual voter registration many years ago, but a bit like St. Augustine, they seem to be saying, "Make me chaste, but not yet." Some Labour Back Benchers seemed to be suggesting that this process, which is scheduled not to be completed until 2015, should be allowed to run yet further, but that is quite wrong. We approve of the decision to go ahead, and we believe that what is sought can be accomplished earlier than that. We believe that it could be accomplished by 2013, and there is support even from the Electoral Commission for that. It would be our intention that that should be achieved.

Much progress has been made, not all of it willingly, especially in the early stages by the Government, and because the Bill is now such a very different—

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, 9 February ).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the Bill be now read the Third time.

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The House divided: Ayes 273, Noes 67.

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Division number 48 Political Parties and Elections Bill — Schedule 5 — Repeals

Aye: 273 MPs

No: 67 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

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Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.

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