Loans to Ireland Bill (Allocation of Time)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:46 pm on 15th December 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough 12:46 pm, 15th December 2010

I have a lot of respect for the Minister; he is one of the most able in the House. [Hon. Members: " Hear, hear."] However, it was not his best speech.

Chris Bryant made a point about emergency measures, but the Minister did not call the Bill an emergency measure-he just said that it is an important Bill and that it be would rather nice to get it through quickly. It is absolutely true that the Bill is not an emergency measure and there is no such urgency for it. However, it is not the duty of the House to say to the Executive, "It will be jolly nice to get the Bill through quickly." We are here to scrutinise the Bill. It matters not what team Back Benchers are on: they are here to hold the Government to account. I said that as an Opposition Member and I shall say it as a Government Member. The Minister remarked that the longer he spoke, the more he would eat into time on Second Reading, but the Government designed the allocation of time motion in that way. When we were in opposition, we said that that such remarks were appalling, and they are also appalling in government.

This motion contains one of the most draconian guillotines we have ever seen in Parliament. It contains 16 separate restrictions on debate, it is longer and has more words than the Bill itself, and it is designed purely to restrict debate and to remove the right to vote on amendments in Committee. I am afraid that it is as bad as those we used to see under the previous Government. It is rubber-stamping at its finest. The motion proposes to rush through legislation at a speed that would win approval in North Korea and to take Parliament for granted.

This is not my first time scrutinising a Government who are trying to rush a Bill through Parliament. Coincidentally, the circumstances of a debate on a Northern Ireland Bill on 4 March 2009 were very much the same, in so far as the Government tried to rush through a Bill in one day when, as now, it was not necessary to do so. Therefore, I feel that we have come full circle. Here we are with a different Government-a coalition Government-who are trying to rush through another Bill.

As a trained chartered accountant, I am rather partial to my numbers. Therefore, I would like to read out a few. Three and a half hours is the amount of time that Parliament is being given for the Second Reading debate of the Bill; £3.25 billion is the minimum amount that the Bill proposes to give the Republic of Ireland; and zero is the probable chance that the House of Lords will be able to scrutinise it, because it will most likely be certified as a money Bill. Let me expand on those three figures. Three and a half hours for Parliament to debate a Bill on Second Reading-actually, I should have said that three and a half hours is the maximum time that we are being given, because the time starts from the moment that the allocation of time debate starts. If the allocation of time debate runs its full course and there is a Division, the time for a Second Reading debate on a Bill that proposes spending £3.25 billion will be a maximum of 15 minutes. The Chancellor will not have cleared his throat in 15 minutes. In other words, we will be spending £216 million a minute during that debate.

One could argue that none of these things matters-we saw it all the time in the previous Parliament-because we have the backstop of the other place, which cannot limit debates, and Members can scrutinise the Bill clause by clause and vote on amendments. Unfortunately, that is not the case with this Bill: because it will be certified as a money Bill, there will be limited time for debate in the other place. We therefore do not have the backstop, so it is up to this House to scrutinise the Bill properly. This is a most draconian guillotine motion and is entirely unnecessary, and I intend to try to divide the House on this most important matter. Whether one is for or against the principle of the Bill-or, indeed, whether one is indifferent to it-we as parliamentarians must demand proper time for debate.

It is important to set out the reasons why all stages of the Loans to Ireland Bill should not take place on one day. Let us consider the circumstances under which the Government can legitimately push their legislation through all its stages in one day. I understand that in national emergencies, such as those relating to terrorism, the swift progression of a Bill through Parliament is needed. However, the Loans to Ireland Bill is not one of those Bills. Since 1997, only a handful of Bills have been pushed through the Commons in one day alone. The last one was the Northern Ireland Bill in 2009, which I referred to a few moments ago, but let us look at the typical Bill that has gone through in one day and the precedents that this motion creates.

On 4 April 2001, the Elections Bill went through all its stages in one day, owing to the national crisis caused by the foot and mouth epidemic. Clearly that is not a reason for the Loans to Ireland Bill to go through in one day. On 2 September 1998, Parliament was recalled from its summer recess to pass all stages of the Criminal Justice (Terrorism and Conspiracy) Bill, as an urgent response to the terrible Omagh bombing. Again, that does not apply to today's Bill. On 19 February 2008, the Banking (Special Provisions) Bill was passed in relation to Northern Rock, and therefore needed to be rushed through the Commons. The House sat until midnight on that day, which I understand was because of market sensitivity. Again, that does not apply to today's Bill. None of those exceptional circumstances applies to the Loans to Ireland Bill. If this guillotine motion goes through, the Government will have set a dangerous precedent for curtailing debate and excluding proper parliamentary scrutiny on controversial issues.