I beg to move amendment 5, in page 9, line 39, at end add—
'(4) This Act and any Statutory Instrument made under this Act shall cease to have effect on the first anniversary of the day on which the Act is passed.'.
We might get a little squeezed in the Third Reading debate, so may I take this opportunity to extend the usual courtesies to the Secretary of State and his staff? We on this side of the House have sat through many discussions over the past few days and we are very grateful for the courtesy and reasonableness with which the right hon. Gentleman has treated us and entered into those discussions. It has been an exemplary way of handling what has been a difficult and controversial Bill. We and others believe that it has been hurried through but, given all those pressures, we could not have asked for more courtesy and reasonableness in the manner of its handling.
Colloquially, this amendment is a sunset clause—a notion often discussed in this House, but insufficiently and rarely applied to legislation. Variations of the amendment were used for emergency powers granted by the House to deal with issues such as terrorism. It is a very sensible instrument for any piece of legislation that is unduly controversial and which may have unforeseen consequences.
This is such a Bill. There can be no doubt that it has been hurriedly cobbled together, and perhaps even more hurriedly rushed through this House. It is very rare to have Second Reading, Committee and Report on three consecutive days. A Bill of this magnitude and consequence will have effects that none of us will have been able properly to understand, even after the vigorous debate that we have enjoyed. It therefore makes good sense to put a natural expiry date on it, so that in a year or so the House is required to come back and take a look at how it has worked.
There may be court cases, changes in the behaviour that we can display in the House, and effects on right hon. and hon. Members, and possibly even our staff, that we have not envisaged. It is simply sensible and uncontroversial to allow us to look at the Bill in the cold light of day after it has been in place for a year, and so inevitably after there has been a general election. Nothing could be worse than making bad law and letting it lie on the statute book. The surest way of making sure that bad legislation comes back before this House is to make its return automatic by passing a sunset clause. Thereby, if the Government of the day wish to renew the Bill, believe that it has been of value and is working, or believe that it should be amended, the Bill can be started again, have its sunset clause triggered, or be brought back for amendment.
I urge the House to do something that it always says it would like to do, namely agree to a sunset clause. Let us do it and just see how it works, so that the Bill, which is likely to be agreed to, can come back in a year's time, and we can see whether the House looks upon it as we have done this week.
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Alan Duncan has made the point that sunset clauses are familiar to the House because they have been used in legislation dealing with emergency provisions in terrorism situations. Of course, one of the reasons that legislation is deemed to be temporary is that it is hoped that the conditions and requirements demanding the legislation are temporary. Sunset clauses have been used in various bits of Northern Ireland legislation during the peace process, as institutions were established, different arrangements were put in place, and safeguards were introduced that it was hoped could later be disposed of. Sunset clauses were inserted in the hope that the circumstances and environment would change so the law would not have to remain permanently on the statute book, and there would not have to be a full Act of repeal.
The situation that we are discussing is very different. I do not think any of us believe that the fundamental credibility question, and the issue of having independently verified and monitored standards in relation to parliamentary expenses and financial probity, will pass or be temporary. We are not talking about just a wee 2009 affair, courtesy of The Daily Telegraph; the situation goes deeper than that, and we are kidding ourselves if we think we can deal with that in a sunset clause. We are in danger of undermining the authority and standing of IPSA if we say we are setting it up on approval for a year. We have already inserted parliamentary control into an awful lot of what IPSA does.
That is what the hon. and learned Gentleman says, but when is another matter. Let us be clear: we have already made sure that the involvement of Parliament has been inserted into all sorts of controls, checks and brakes in relation to the conduct, performance and investigations of the authority. Earlier, I referred to the conundrum of the "There's a hole in my bucket, dear Liza" syndrome; IPSA is independent, but parliamentary sovereignty is asserted over it.
I want to finish and let other Members speak. The situation is something of a hologram. We are saying that IPSA is independent, but for other purposes we are saying that there is parliamentary control. We are also saying that IPSA will have a shelf-life of one year, and if we do not like what it does, we can dispose of it completely. How we are meant to recruit people of competence and credibility to the authority on that basis I do not know. With a sunset clause, there is the danger that we might be saying, "This is temporary for a year. It could change next year." Do Members of this House want to fight a general election on the issue of expenses and how they are managed and controlled? That would be a very dangerous virus to come into a general election campaign. That is the danger of a sunset clause.
I intend to be very brief indeed.
I completely disagree with Mark Durkan, as I cannot understand how anyone in the House would want to deny it the right to revisit legislation. That runs contrary to the whole point of being elected, so I hope that he has time to rethink his comments.
No, the hon. Gentleman has had his turn.
I support my hon. Friend Alan Duncan, who moved the amendment, and I hope that the Lord Chancellor will look at it carefully and understand why we need it. The measure worked perfectly well in the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, as we were able to make sure that we constantly revisit legislation we may have concerns about.
We have rushed the Bill through. We would not need the sunset clause if we had not done so. We are now seeing clauses knocked out at the last moment, and promises made across the Floor of the House that in the other place—the unelected Chamber—changes will have to be made. That is not right. Mr. Allen made a powerful speech, in which he talked about our taking control of the affairs of the House. What we have shown in the past two days is that we are not fit to take control of anything, because we would rather have an unelected House do our work for us—that work is relevant to us, not to them—which is absurd. The reason for the sunset clause is clear: we need to revisit the measure in time to make sure that any mistakes can be rectified.
The problem is absolutely clear. It is simply that our expenses system has been abused and is weak, but we could change it in short order. We did not need a series of major changes to our rights, responsibilities and privileges, cobbled together on the back of that requirement. What has happened, on the whim of the Prime Minister, is that we now have this extraordinary Bill, which is ill-thought-through and liable to major change in another place. Surely the purpose tonight is not to be party political. The purpose— [ Interruption. ] People may laugh about that, but this is not party political. If the hon. Gentleman had an iota of courage—and he does not need to look at me like that, because I voted against my Government on many occasions—instead of sneering he would vote for the amendment, knowing that he voted for those who come after him to take control of this place. Surely this is the point: let us make sure that we have a chance to revisit the measure, and overturn it if necessary.
I was not sneering at Mr. Duncan Smith. [Hon. Members: "He meant the hon. Member for Wirral, West."] Okay, but I was chuckling at him, because there was a disconnection between his invective against the Prime Minister and what he said in his next breath about this not being a party political issue. I agree that it should not be seen as a party political issue, and I remind the House that all three party leaders backed the establishment of a parliamentary standards authority. [ Interruption. ] Okay, that was the view of the Leader of the Opposition, and it was also the view of the leader of the Liberal Democrats.
I would have attempted to intervene on Mr. Duncan Smith, as I wholeheartedly agree with his point that the House is constantly abrogating our responsibility adequately to scrutinise legislation and sending it to the other place to do the job for us. That is even more pertinent when it comes to a Bill that relates to the regulation of Parliament. I hope that my right hon. Friend will address that issue, because the way the Government guillotine such legislation is a disgrace.
First, there is good evidence in a Modernisation Committee report from two years ago—that evidence came from the Clerks of the House—that it is a myth that this House spends less time on legislation than the other place does. It is simply not true. [ Interruption. ] Well, that was the implication of what was said. Secondly, on the insufficiency of time, I personally have always been in favour of the House sitting late, but—
No, I will not.
It is the House itself that has been in favour of not going late, as Members have been anxious to get away. That is the constant pressure on our Whips. It makes no difference to Ministers. I would have been happy, as would our Whips, to have debated the Bill at some length.
Others wish to speak, so I must deal with what is proposed. I endorse entirely the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle, who has been consistent in saying in the Chamber what he said in the privacy of the cross-party talks, which has not always been the case with others who took part in those talks. If the Opposition are serious about endorsing the principle and backing the establishment of a parliamentary standards authority, I have to say they know nothing about establishing organisations if they put a question mark against the future of that authority within just a year of its establishment.
Many legitimate issues have been raised about the future of the staff of the Fees Office who are to be transferred to the authority. We must provide them with security. What conceivable security would they have if they faced the clear promise that the Act would cease to have effect on the first anniversary of the day on which it was passed?
Very nice try, but it does not wash. As someone who has run organisations and set them up, I appreciate that the Secretary of State is quite right to say that the staff need some sort of continuity, but we are considering not just the staff but the significance of the legislation that we are passing. It is not the independent fees office that is in any way controversial—the Secretary of State is right; we all support that; it is all the surrounding implications for privilege and so on that matter, and they may well need revisiting. Doing so in no way threatens the stability of the independent fees office that the Bill sets up, and which should be the only thing it sets up.
That is not what the amendment says. It does not provide an opportunity to revisit the Act. It states:
"This Act and any Statutory Instrument made under this Act shall cease to have effect on the first anniversary of the day on which the Act is passed."
Let us say that we get Royal Assent by
I shall give way in a moment.
I accept entirely that Alan Duncan has set up and run organisations. I know that that is true. He knows very well that it would be impossible to recruit anybody at any level if they were told, "The certainty is not only that you're going to lose your job, but that the firm is going to be wound up within seven months of your coming in."
The purpose of a sunset clause is to recognise the urgency of the legislation. Because it has been expanded and rushed through, it needs to be properly scrutinised and checked. By rushing it through now, we can get started and address the immediate problem of the expenses and transferring it to an external organisation, but with the sunset clause in place, the Government could introduce proper legislation in the autumn, with plenty of time in both Houses for it to be properly scrutinised and fully implemented.
The better way of handling the burden of what the hon. Gentleman says is for all parties to commit themselves to monitoring the legislation carefully—I certainly do, on behalf of my party—and ensuring that adequate time is provided for any amending legislation that is needed, which could be in a single Bill or as part of a second Bill.
Will my right hon. Friend give way? If a sunset clause were agreed to, would there not be a cynical feeling among the public, which the Opposition refuse to accept, that we were setting up the authority because of the scandal and the way the House has been brought into disrepute? Surely no one denies that. The public would say, "If the new body is too effective, Parliament will do away with it." We have learned the lesson with Elizabeth Filkin, who was a very effective Parliamentary Commissioner and was dismissed because she did her job too well.
I accept entirely what my hon. Friend says on that point. Although there are real preoccupations for this House about how this House operates, we need to remember that the reason we are introducing the provision for IPSA is that we—ourselves, collectively—failed to self-regulate. The idea that we put the issue back on the agenda by adopting this, I am afraid, really rather silly amendment is ridiculous.
In the brief time that is left, I want to associate Liberal Democrat Members with the thanks to the Secretary of State and his staff for the way they—
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Do you realise that there is a seething anger in this House because we have no time for Third Reading at all? This is a Bill of monumental importance, and the only reason we are debating the current clause is that it has been rushed through. Is there something you can do? Can I move a motion, and will you accept it?
Despite the controversy and mishandling, I want to place those thanks on the record, because there has been quite a lot of movement and communication, and it has helped the Bill to become a bit better—but not perfect. It is definitely still in an unworkable form.
Had my right hon. Friend not intervened on me, those two items would have been next on my list. Those thanks stand on the record; I shall not bother repeating them. However, those Committees have made a huge difference to informing the House and to the Bill's progress.
As I said to the Secretary of State, there is a consensus among the vast majority of those in the House that putting out to an external authority the handling of Members' expenses, finances and salaries is a very necessary way to restore public confidence in this country's body politic. It was a crucial part of the Bill and a crucial reason for its urgency. However, the Bill expanded like Topsy and got into an awful muddle as the Government bolted on extra aspects that have had to be removed. That has made it much more unworkable, and means that it needs to be revisited and properly scrutinised.
The Bill will go to the other place, which we hope will do a good job in trying to improve it, but putting the onus on the Government by introducing a sunset clause so that they knew the Bill had to be revisited would concentrate their mind. In the autumn we would be able to come forward again with the full scrutiny of effective legislation, fully worked out, so that we had a permanent solution that dealt with all the concerns that have been raised in this debate. I urge the Government, even at this late stage, to accept a sunset clause.
There are three good reasons why we need a sunset clause. First, as the Secretary of State said, this is emergency legislation, and emergency legislation should generally carry a review or a sunset clause. Secondly, the Government have themselves published guidelines with which to judge whether Bills or regulations should have sunset clauses. On the list of criteria deemed to be particularly appropriate for sunset clauses, there is
"regulation responding to a particular crisis or to political and public pressure".
I cannot think of anything more apposite to describe the need for a sunset clause. Indeed, the Secretary of State used the word "pressure" only a moment ago.
The third reason, which we all know about because we have been sitting here for three days, is that the Bill is in a thoroughly shoddy state and needs to be fundamentally reviewed. It will not be properly done in a few weeks in the other place; we will have to do it ourselves in a year's time—hopefully, when my party is in government.
This is a monstrous Bill, which has been pushed through with indecent haste. If we had taken the proper time, we could have had a decent Bill that dealt with expenses but did not interfere with Parliament's rights and privileges. This is a black day for Parliament, and I urge the House to support the sunset clause so that at least we can try to put things right in a year's time.
Question accordingly negatived.
It being after Seven o'clock, The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Programme Order,