With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 6, page 1, leave out lines 7 to 10 and insert
‘“legislation” means primary legislation, secondary legislation or amendments to primary legislation’.
Amendment 8, page 1, line 16, leave out ‘draft’.
Amendment 14, title, line 1, leave out ‘preparing draft legislation for publication’ and insert ‘presenting legislation’.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill and to the amendments standing in my name and that of my hon. Friend Thomas Docherty. The long list of amendments that we have tabled demonstrates that this is an extremely badly drafted piece of legislation. As I am sure Government Members know, Her Majesty’s Opposition oppose the Bill. It is ill-conceived, badly drafted and full of technical problems, and we do not accept its underlying principles. For a start, it does not make sense to look at draft legislation only. Most Bills do not appear in draft at all, so this would catch only a tiny number of the Bills that the House considers.
Order. The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that we do not discuss the selection of amendments.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I would like to point out some of the problems with what has been suggested by Harriett Baldwin, whose Bill this is. Every piece of legislation has a territorial extent clause at its end. Let us consider the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which is currently in Committee. Mr Hollobone has been chairing some of its sittings, so he knows what I am talking about. Clause 117 states that the Bill, as a whole, applies to England and Wales, and then explains which clauses apply more widely. There is no lack of clarity about the legal status of Bills before the House.
Clearly, the hon. Lady’s underlying concern is that people are taking views on legislation that affects parts of the United Kingdom beyond those in which their constituencies are located. If that is her concern, she should have presented a Bill making that case. However, she has presented a different and flawed Bill.
The hon. Lady will be aware that the procedure for Scottish Bills, as set out in Standing Order 97, requires the Speaker to issue a certificate stating that a measure is predominantly Scottish, after which it can go to the Grand Committee. It would be possible to do the same for England. Surely it would be worth printing a complex Bill in draft—so that it can be published and people can look at it—because, if there were territorial issues on the margins, it would provide an opportunity to consider them fully before the Speaker issued his certificate. Is the suggestion of my hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin not a valuable addition to how we have dealt with such matter traditionally?
As the hon. Gentleman says, arrangements are in place for legislation that takes effect predominantly in Scotland. However, the Government seem to be rushing legislation through so fast that it is quite possible that the Speaker and his offices might not have time to take all these complex matters into account. That is a problem with the way this Government are ramming through legislation on the NHS and, if I might say so, this Legal Aid—
Order. We are meant to be discussing the amendments, but we are getting drawn elsewhere by certain Members. I am sure that, with the hon. Lady’s experience, we can stick to the amendments.
On the issues raised by the amendment, my hon. Friend said a minute ago that she suspected that the real motivation behind the Bill was not just to specify whether a Bill applied to England, Scotland or Northern Ireland only, but to lead to a situation where certain MPs could not vote on those Bills. If she has any doubt about that, the BBC reported yesterday that Harriett Baldwin
“hoped that this would allow it to become accepted practice that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs would not vote on England-only bills.”
If that is what she really wants, would it not be better to have a Bill to that effect for us to discuss and debate, rather than one that tries to introduce such a measure through the back door?
That is exactly right. This is a campaigning Bill; it is not a serious Bill. The hon. Lady cannot possibly expect the House to support this ill-conceived Bill, which would not even do what she wants.
So in reality these amendments are not really important in the hon. Lady’s estimation; she is simply intent on wrecking this Bill by any means possible. That is the reality, is it not?
Perhaps I used the wrong words. What the hon. Lady is determined to do is stop this Bill making any further progress. That is the reality and she might as well be honest about it.
Order. The hon. Lady is being tempted all the time. She must not give in to that temptation. Let us stick to the amendments.
Order. The hon. Lady must not make a Second Reading speech. Let us deal with the amendments that are before us.
One of the problems with looking at draft legislation rather than legislation in its final form is that it is not possible at that stage to say what the financial implications across the United Kingdom might be. The Government would be forced not simply to identify the territorial extent of a Bill, as they do currently, but to look at the differential impact of clauses that apply across the United Kingdom. For example, some legislation could be applicable throughout the UK but have a greater effect in some places than in others. Let us take social security as an example. If unemployment is higher in Wales than in England and changes are made to the rate of jobseeker’s allowance, the impact in Wales will obviously be different from the impact in England. I am sure that that is not what the hon. Lady intends.
What I am trying to do is demonstrate that the Bill is not well drafted, and the amendments that we have tabled do just that. I fear that the object of this Bill is really a political object—that what the hon. Member for West Worcestershire is doing is disingenuous and that her concerns are different from those that she has set out.
Amendment 6 states that
“‘legislation’ means primary legislation, secondary legislation or amendments to primary legislation”.
The hon. Lady must surely be aware that another problem with the Bill is that she has not provided proper definitions, which makes it difficult to understand precisely how it would operate. On amendment 14, again, the hon. Lady is talking about something that does not exist. For example, she has made great play of the Barnett formula, but she must know that the Finance Bill is not presented in draft. As far as the Finance Bill is concerned, we vote on some of the money resolutions on the afternoon that the Budget is presented. It is not possible to do what she is suggesting on what is surely one of the measures that she is most concerned about. It is quite clear that the intention behind the Bill is essentially a political intention, to do with an internal dispute within the Government parties, and Her Majesty’s Opposition have no wish to intrude on private grief.
That is for the Chair to decide, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. I would point out that I am allowing a little bit of latitude and, in fairness, the hon. Lady has been brought back to the point, to which, in general, she is sticking at the moment. I will decide from the Chair how far we go.
I do not wish to delay the House any further on these technical amendments. I think I have made my point perfectly clear. I do not intend to push the amendments to a vote, but I hope that I have demonstrated a small number of the problems with this Bill.
Let me start by saying that my hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin has done the House a service by introducing the Bill. It is a modest measure, but it provides something useful for the House, if the commission proposed by the Minister, which I also welcome, decides that we need a procedure for England similar to
What my hon. Friend is suggesting will help in the difficult process of deciding whether a Bill is predominantly Scottish or, in this case, English. The difficulty that the Speaker has always had to contend with is that, under
“it shall not be withheld by reason only that the bill— makes minor consequential amendments of enactments which extend to England and Wales”.
So it is possible for a Bill that is predominantly about Scotland but has some implications for England and Wales to be dealt with under the Scottish procedure. My hon. Friend is proposing that draft legislation would contain a certificate from the Secretary of State explaining the territorial extent of its legal and financial effects on the various parts of the UK. That would be useful in cases that were on the margin.
But cannot the hon. Gentleman see that the territorial extent is already in a Bill, and that the financial implications are set out in the impact assessment that is published alongside it?
The mistake in the hon. Lady’s amendments is that they would not give the Speaker any opportunity to present his certificate. She is proposing that the Secretary of State’s explanation would be provided when the legislation was presented, rather than when it was first printed, which would give the Speaker no time to do his work. These are therefore wrecking amendments.
The issue is the speed with which this Government are putting through legislation, and their failure to leave adequate time between First and Second Readings, and between Second Reading and the Committee stage. If they were to give Bills adequate time, that would give the Speaker the time for which the hon. Gentleman calls.
I completely disagree. The hon. Lady would give the Speaker no time at all. Under
The hon. Gentleman ought to think in terms of the partnership that my hon. Friend’s Bill would create. She is proposing that the Minister would help the Speaker. Is not that a good thing? The Secretary of State would provide the Speaker with a statement setting out the territorial, legal and financial effects of the Bill. It would give him time and provide a draft Bill process for complicated cases in which there were issues on the margin. It would provide a helpful extra arrow to the bow. It is a good thing and I certainly support it. The amendments would damage that process, however, because there would be no draft Bill, and no time between a Bill’s first printing and its presentation for these matters to be considered, because the rule would apply only when it was presented. These are wrecking amendments, because they endanger the spirit of co-operation that my hon. Friend is trying to engender between the Government and the Speaker in deciding whether a measure should be dealt with under an English procedure. I therefore oppose them.
This is a rather odd discussion, given that there is a certain lack of transparency about what is really happening today. Harriett Baldwin has already suggested on the BBC that this is really about MPs from outside England not being able to vote on matters that are said to be English-only. We also know that the Government have proposed establishing a commission on the so-called West Lothian question. No doubt, at the end of the day, having listened to all the arguments, the hon. Lady will solemnly announce that she has been persuaded to withdraw her Bill and support the Government’s commission. I therefore feel that the debate has a somewhat unreal nature, as we should be debating the real concerns that Members from England might have about the way in which the business of the House is conducted. We have the Bill before us today, however, and I want to say something about the generality of the legislation and how one of the amendments would make it better. The Opposition’s duty must be to improve a Bill, especially when we think that it is a bad one.
There is certainly an issue, but whether it is as broad as the hon. Gentleman suggests is another question. Whether the entire constitutional nature of the House should be changed as a result of it is also a matter for debate. If there is a matter to be addressed, the only way to solve it, in my view, is to set up an English Parliament or assemblies in all the regions of England. This Bill is more damaging than its supporters realise. Under the guise of simply providing for certificates stating which parts of the UK will be affected by a Bill, it is trying to achieve by the back door the outcome that the hon. Gentleman supports. That is not the right way in which to debate this issue.
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the West Lothian question. Can it be right that a Scottish Member can vote on English matters when an English Member has no such reciprocal right? Can he answer that question?
I must stay in order while answering that question, Mr Deputy Speaker. I referred to the “so-called” West Lothian question because it is not simply about West Lothian; it applies also to west Belfast, west Cardiff and even west London, in that certain matters relating to Greater London have been devolved to the London assembly. I accept that the hon. Gentleman is asking a reasonable question, but the Bill does not provide an appropriate way of dealing with it.
The Bill, rather than creating constitutional symmetry that would apply beautifully to all parts of the UK, would seriously affect the way in which the House operates and the ability of all Members to participate in debates. This question deserves an answer. I represent a Scottish constituency, and I am interested in how these issues apply to the UK as a whole, but if Members in
England really feel strongly about this, I would argue again that the answer involves another measure, rather than creating two kinds of Member in this House.
Does my hon. Friend agree that another technical defect—I hope the amendments made this clear, but perhaps they did not—is that the hon. Lady has not done with her own Bill what she is suggesting that Ministers should do with every Bill? There is no explanation of how her Bill would apply in each of the jurisdictions, or of what financial burdens it would create. She cannot do that for this tiny Bill, yet she intends to impose a massive bureaucratic burden, which is something that I thought the Government were opposed to.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I have sympathy with the hon. Member for West Worcestershire, given the difficulties involved in introducing a private Member’s Bill; I introduced three over the years, having been lucky enough to come up in the draw. We are obviously in a different position from Governments in the level of support available and the amount of information that we can put before the House. I do not want to criticise her too much, but it would have been helpful if she had provided a background paper to support the Bill, rather than simply relying on the material supplied by the House of Commons Library. I apologise if she did produce such a paper and I have not seen it.
In regard to amendment 6, there are a number of important issues about how the Bill would work. A great many pieces of legislation that pass through the House simply cannot be categorised as English-only, Scottish-only, Welsh-only or Northern Irish-only Bills. A large number of Bills overlap in various ways. Most Bills on transport affect transport in England but are likely to have knock-on effects on other parts of the UK. We debated the Health and Social Care Bill this week and although it primarily covers England and Wales, the provisions on abortion would have applied to the United Kingdom. Every measure that has spending implications will have consequential effects on every part of the UK because of the Barnett formula.
The hon. Gentleman knows that I do not vote on English-only legislation. It is relatively straightforward: we examine a Bill, assess it for the Scottish interest—no one is more keen than I on the Scottish interest—and if it predominantly and overwhelmingly concerns England, we do not vote on it.
I do not want to go over old intra-Scottish debates, but I recollect the hon. Gentleman and some of his colleagues voting on a Thames tunnel Bill. Its connection to Scotland seemed remote. However, let us leave that aside. I do not know whether he participated in the Olympics Bill—
Order. We are drifting once again. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not be tempted further and will stick to the amendments.
We vote on issues that have a Scottish interest, and so should the hon. Gentleman, but there are many Bills in the current Session alone on which there has been no Scottish National party vote: the Academies Bill, the Education Bill, the Health and Social Care Bill, and the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. If there is no predominant Scottish interest, we do not vote on it.
There may have been no SNP vote on the Health and Social Care Bill, but the abortion counselling measures would have applied to Scotland. The hon. Gentleman is not being consistent.
As a Welsh Conservative Member, I feel that the Bill gives us an important, legitimate opportunity to ask ourselves whether we can contribute to a debate when there are consequences, to consider those consequences and to decide whether we are imposing on English affairs or taking part in a discussion that will also affect Wales.
That comment may support my position. Let us take the argument to the next stage: if the hon. Gentleman was asked not to vote on a Bill that had financial consequences, it would put him in a difficult position with his constituents if he chose to ignore those implications.
It is not simply that many Bills are more complex than they first seem in their implications for the UK as a whole; I am also concerned about the way in which the measure would fundamentally change the workings of the House.
Yes. We did it for years. Those Bills created no real difficulty. My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire offers an additional opportunity through the draft Bill process for any cases on the margins. It is not a question of changing our procedures. We already have a procedure that deals with the matter for Scotland, so why not have one for England?
The hon. Gentleman knows that the procedure to which he refers does not in any sense imply that Members outside Scotland cannot vote on the final stages of measures. The Bill is very much the thin end of the wedge and would create two classes of Members of Parliament. That is my fundamental concern.
A Government could have a majority that depends on votes in Scotland, Wales or northern England—people assume that that would be a Labour Government, but politics change, and what happens in 10, 20, 30 or 40 years may not be what people expect from today’s politics. After all, some 60 years ago, the Conservative party had a majority of seats and votes in Scotland, so we must think of the long-term consequences. If a
Government had a UK majority in the House that depended on votes outside England, Bills that applied “only to England”, on which Members outside England could not vote, would need to be supported by the Opposition. The Government would therefore not be the Government for large parts of the legislative programme. Opposition spokespeople would be the de facto Ministers for Education, Health and so on for England, and the real UK Ministers could not perform their roles because they would effectively not command a majority in the House. That would move us towards a position whereby there were two Governments in the House: a UK Government and a second Government formed by the shadow Front Bench for those “English-only” matters where there was no majority for that Government. We would reach that position if we followed the route of not allowing Members of Parliament outside England to vote on specific matters.
My position is clear. If there is genuine concern among people in England—I accept that there may well be—it should be addressed through proper devolution, and perhaps a proper English Parliament, not by trying to tinker with arrangements in this House in such a way as to undermine its working.
The hon. Gentleman was a strong advocate of Scottish devolution in the 1990s. One of the arguments of the pro-devolutionists was that, when there was a UK majority in the House but Scotland voted another way, there was a democratic deficit. If that was correct for Scotland, why does the same not apply to England?
I am concerned that the Bill might lead to the creation of two Governments in the House. It is liable to lead to genuine disagreement, tension and political division between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I do not want that to happen. I strongly support a Scottish Parliament and devolution elsewhere in the UK, but I want us to remain together as one UK. That is why there is a fundamental flaw in the concept of two classes of Member in the House. That was a preamble to considering amendment 6, which would at least improve the position.
May we please nail the notion of two classes of MP? There are two classes. All Whitehall Departments relate to Government Members on behalf of their constituents but only some relate to me and the hon. Gentleman on behalf of our constituents. Other matters are devolved to the Scottish Parliament and are the responsibility of Scottish Ministers. We should be relaxed about two classes of MP and just get on with it.
There are probably more than 600 classes of MP, given that we all have different interests and concerns. However, the hon. Gentleman must accept that if a Government depended on a majority from outside England and could not win votes on English-only matters, they could not operate as a Government for specific issues and we would eventually have two Governments in the House. It is the inevitable consequence of the measure.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if some Members believe that there are now two classes of MP, perhaps we should have two classes of pay and expenses so that we are not taking huge amounts of taxpayers’ cash?
I am sure that all Members on both sides of the House work as hard as they can for their constituents.
I have tried not to be diverted too much from the amendments, although, understandably, there have been a number of attempts to persuade me to deal with wider issues. Amendment 6 is at least an improvement on a bad provision, which not only implies that there will effectively be two Governments and two classes of MP, but does not make clear whether it applies only to primary legislation or, in addition, to secondary legislation, amendments to primary legislation and, indeed, private Members’ Bills. The amendment does at least try to make a bad Bill more consistent, and I hope that the House will support it. In fact, I hope that the entire Bill is thrown out on Third Reading, or following its passage through the House of Lords.
There is an important debate to be had on this issue. The amendments are intended to highlight some of the difficulties raised by the Bill, but I feel that if we are to have a debate on law-making in relation to MPs with constituencies outside England when it comes to decisions that apply only in England, we should debate that issue in its generality. Let us have a proper debate on whether there should be some matters on which MPs outside England should not vote, rather than cloaking that issue in discussions about a certificate. Let us deal with the real issue, rather than with what I consider to be a bogus issue and a diversion from the real concern that I accept is felt by some Members.
I am pleased to learn that Helen Goodman does not propose to press her amendment. If I followed her argument correctly, amendments 8 and 14 would extend the effect of my Bill beyond what it was carefully drafted to do. I do not think that they are necessary, and I hope that we can move swiftly on to the next stage of the Bill.
It is always a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I approach the Bill with some interest, because I am a member of the Procedure Committee. As the House will know, we are currently examining the sitting hours of the House and, in particular, the way in which private Members’ Bills are dealt with on Fridays. A very small number of Members seem to have turned these occasions into what the Committee has jokingly termed “Chope Fridays”—and I note that Mr Chope is in the Chamber today. It is therefore welcome that that monopoly appears to have been broken, and that a worthwhile debate is now taking place.
I wonder whether today’s debate would have been better suited to a full day in Westminster Hall, given that there may be no Divisions on the Bill. Indeed, given yesterday’s announcement by the Deputy Prime Minister about the West Lothian commission—to which I suspect the Minister will wish to refer in his response—it might form part of the broader debate that we will have in that context. I realise that in speaking to the amendments tabled by me and by my hon. Friend Helen Goodman I am somewhat cup-tied, if I may use football parlance, when it comes to the realms on which I am permitted to touch, and I shall do my best not to be tempted to digress by Government Members. I know that we shall be able to engage in a slightly broader discussion on Third Reading. As I have said, I think that the debate is worth having, and probably worth having on the Floor of the House rather than at a Conservative party conference, where I believe that it would have taken place in three weeks’ time if the Deputy Prime Minister had not made his announcement about the West Lothian commission yesterday.
I am concerned about two aspects of the Bill, which all four amendments seek to address. The first is the issue of consultation.
If the hon. Gentleman had held his proverbial horses for another 15 seconds, he might have heard the answer to that question.
Like many other Members who are present today, I am new to the House, but I understand that in previous Parliaments there was a gap between the Government’s publication of a draft Bill and their presentation of that Bill, and it is hugely regrettable that that does not happen now. I take the word of some of my more esteemed and knowledgeable colleagues who have served in earlier Parliaments, but I gather from them that it was pretty much standard practice. There would be a period of—wait for it—consultation on the Government’s draft proposal, involving Members, outside experts, and other interested parties. The Bill subsequently presented by the Government might differ significantly from the draft version. I assume that Mr Nuttall is satisfied with that answer to his question, and that I can now move on.
The second issue that concerns me is the fact that a Bill whose title remains the same may contain clauses that are very different from those on which the Government originally consulted, or which did not exist at that stage. I can think of no better example than the Scotland Bill, which is currently being dealt with in the other place. It is now a very different Bill from the one that existed during the consultation phase, and contains a different set of powers and clauses. I believe that, in such circumstances, the draft stage of a Bill could be described as a false piece of advertising. A Secretary of State might, in good faith, publish a statement—I will not be drawn into discussing why it would be the Secretary of State rather than the Speaker, as was the case with the Scottish procedure that was mentioned before, but I am led to believe that many Secretaries of State in the present Government do act in good faith: the Minister told me that that is the case, and I never have any reason to doubt the Minister—to the effect that a Bill applied only to England, without recognising the obvious knock-on effects that it would have in Scotland. Pete Wishart listed all the Bills that he said did not apply—
Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is going to speak to the amendments, but he should not be drawn into areas on which discussion is not allowed. I intend to allow a little bit of latitude on Third Reading, and I would not want the hon. Gentleman to use up his Third Reading speech at this stage.
I assure you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that there is no danger of my using up my Third Reading speech at this stage, but, if I heard you correctly at the time, you allowed an exchange to take place about the Bills listed by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire—and there were some nods of agreement on the opposite Benches—in whose passage the Scottish National party and others had decided not to participate. Those parties, however, did decide to participate in debates on Bills that Government Members—and, crucially, a Secretary of State—might consider not to apply to Scotland. The most obvious example was the tuition fees legislation. I will not repeat the arguments contained in it, but when it was going through the House of Commons in, I believe, December, not only the SNP but the Welsh and Irish nationalists and the Ulster Unionists took part in the debate. A Secretary of State who may not know that that will happen when he or she publishes a draft Bill for consultation will surely, once the presentation stage is reached, have a much clearer idea of whether his or her statement was accurate, and whether Scottish Members should be allowed to participate.
That is a very good example of how the presentation stage could cause confusion. It is hard to see how the English tuition fees legislation would not have constituted England-only legislation had the definition in this Bill been adopted. It would surely have been outrageous if Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had not been able to vote on it.
Indeed. That is one of the two most obvious examples in the current Parliament of the difference between the appearance of legislation in its draft form which has not yet been subjected to the consultation that is so critical and its appearance at the presentation stage, when it is recognised that Members from all parts of the United Kingdom should be able to vote on it. The other example is, as I say, the Scotland Bill. One would assume, given the title of that Bill, that Conservative Members would have taken no part in those proceedings, yet I am fairly certain that Iain Stewart and I had a lively exchange on railways powers, which is a matter entirely for Westminster. That is where the power sits at the moment. The measure was about handing over a power. There is no better example of where there would be huge confusion than debates about the handing over of powers.
Another example we have been dealing with in recent weeks is police commissioners and the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. Again, one might at draft stage say, “That is a matter for English and Welsh Members because powers on policing are covered by that.” However, it is possible, for example, that some territorial powers might have been granted.
Let me give an example in relation to future police powers. As the House will know, the Metropolitan police have responsibility for counter-terrorism and the commissioner of the week will be responsible for that. It is possible that we would have a police Bill that deals largely, for example, with the merging of police forces in England and/or Wales, but that has a chunk that deals with counter-terrorism and the powers of the Metropolitan police as they affect Scotland and perhaps Northern Ireland. That might get added somewhere between the consultation stage and the presentation stage. That is why the measure is flawed.
I would be grateful if Harriett Baldwin could answer one question, if she is not getting pastoral care from her Front-Bench colleagues, who I think are giving her some helpful advice. She talks about the Secretary of State providing statements. Will she clarify whether the measure would equally apply to private Member’s Bills and, if so, who would provide the statements on those? Would it be the hon. Lady in her current capacity, although I am sure that one day she will be a Secretary of State? Is the measure purely about Government Bills, or is it also about Bills that are dealt with on a Friday?
That leads to another important point. I have huge sympathy with the arguments both ways and I will avoid getting drawn on another issue, but if that were not the position, the Government could, like in the 1960s, put a lot of contentious legislation—Jenkins did this in particular—in private Member's Bills that were effectively Government Bills. I know that there is always a temptation with newish Members to give them nice, easy private Member's Bills. If we take, for example, a ten-minute rule Bill, we get a dummy Bill that does not have any clauses. It is only at the presentation stage that there is some consultation. That is why it is important, given, if I understand it correctly, that the hon. Lady, with the Minister’s support, is saying that the Bill would equally apply—
So one could have a situation where, shall we say, a UK-wide Government were against privatisation of the health service, but the majority of English MPs were in favour and voted it through, and then a private Member's Bill could be used to reverse the decision of a majority of English MPs. That does not sound like a helpful or consistent way of managing parliamentary business.
I think, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you would call me to order if I were tempted down that path. I certainly will not get drawn on that, but I do not think that that is the case. The hon. Lady has made it clear that the provisions apply equally to private Member's Bills and ten-minute rule Bills. I have sympathy with the argument that it should apply to those, but if there is a reason why the procedure needs to take place at presentation stage, it is that effectively we do not have a draft consultation stage.
To give an example, I have a Bill scheduled for January and I know that Mr Chope and I will debate it on
My hon. Friend Mark Lazarowicz was talking about the Mersey tunnel. That is a good example. There are others about railway infrastructure projects. From the title of a Bill, one may believe initially that it affects the whole UK, because it is about financial compensation. However, by the time one gets to the guts of the Bill and it is presented, one finds that the reverse is true and that it is predominantly an English matter. For example, take the Bill that will, if it goes ahead, be required for High Speed Rail 2. I imagine that we will have a Bill that will cover the section from London to Birmingham. At the draft stage, it might be a predominantly UK matter, because of the financial elements, but by the time the Government bring it to the presentation stage, they will have added so much to it, understandably, that the statement given at the start will be significantly out of date. That is why it is so important that the amendments that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland have tabled and that the Speaker has selected—amendments 3, 6, 8 and 14—try to tighten the Bill.
I know that, when the Minister replies he will make a suggestion, and again I have sympathy for him. I am not sure whether it helps him when I say this, but I find him to be a very effective Minister who is on top of his brief, which helps when one’s boss is the Deputy Prime Minister, because someone should be. I am sure that the Minister will have constructed a reasoned and thoughtful argument. He is very good at getting off his brief and still being able to cope, which not every Minister can do. I suspect that he will advance the argument about the interference of the courts in the proceedings of the House. I suspect, if I were to stray into certain territories about the power of the courts versus this place or the other place, and discuss that, you, Mr Deputy Speaker, would rightly pull me sharply back into line.
May I say to the Minister, because I am not sure that I will get the chance to respond to his arguments afterwards, that I fear that the provisions are slightly 11th hour and I would be grateful if he spent a bit of time setting out in what ways he believes the courts would have the right to intervene significantly in this area, because I am yet to understand what it is he feels would lead to that situation? I am conscious that the Minister will require a bit of time to respond to the debate, and I hope that he will give way to us so we can have that exchange.
First, I think that it is worth saying that I agree with colleagues on both sides of the House when they say that the progress of the Bill so far has been a useful opportunity to have a debate. I thank my hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin for that because she has given us an opportunity to have a debate about the West Lothian question and how the House operates in a devolved situation, and she has done the House a service by permitting us to have a debate in this forum. I am afraid that the Government remain opposed to the Bill overall. I will say a bit more about that on Third Reading.
Specifically talking about the amendments, I know that Helen Goodman said that she was not going to press them, but they provide an opportunity to flesh out some of the flaws with the approach in the Bill, while keeping focused on the provisions. Thomas Docherty put his finger on a key point when he talked about the potential interference of the courts. My hon. Friend drafted the Bill with great care, and it addresses only draft legislation. If it had also addressed legislation and the legislative process, it could have opened up proceedings in this House and how we make legislation to interference by the courts, because if the process for legislation were set down in statute, whether we complied with that process would be a question to be settled in court. We do not want that.
My hon. Friend Oliver Heald referred to the Scottish procedure. That is addressed in Standing Orders so that it remains internal to this House. Arbitration on those Standing Orders lies with the Chair, so the courts are not allowed to trespass on the rights of this House. Therefore, I think that the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife—I was almost tempted to call him my hon. Friend because of his overly kind comments about me, which I do not think will have done me any favours with Members of my party—would have been completely in order if he had started discussing the ability of the courts to trespass on, and interfere in, the rights of this House, because the amendments selected for debate widen the Bill’s scope to cover legislation, which would present the risk that I have outlined. That is why we would oppose the amendments—although I note that the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland has said she will not call a Division. The amendments also illustrate why, although this Bill has been an excellent vehicle for debate, it does not represent a solution to the justified concerns of hon. Friends.
I was listening very carefully at the beginning of the debate, and when my hon. Friend intervened on the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, he referred to her amendments as technical amendments. She concurred, but they are not technical amendments at all as they would radically change the nature of the Bill, in that it would apply no longer only to draft legislation, but to all legislation presented in the House. They are not technical amendments at all, therefore, as they fundamentally reshape the nature of the Bill. I am not surprised that my hon. Friend, who has only had a limited opportunity to study the Bill, said that they were merely technical amendments, but I am a little surprised that the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland concurred, because I would have expected her to be able to see that they are significant and broad ranging.
The Bill would apply only to draft legislation. In the past, not much legislation was presented in draft form. Some technical and controversial measures were, but many were not. That has been the case under all previous Administrations. The current Government have a good record, however, in that we publish an increasing amount of legislation in draft. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is encouraging ministerial colleagues to continue that trend and, for example, the Deputy Prime Minister and I published draft legislation in respect of a House of Lords Bill and draft clauses on individual electoral registration that have been consulted on by the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee.
At the risk of doing even more damage to the Minister’s political career, may I say that his arguments against the Opposition amendments are persuasive and correct and I am therefore glad that my hon. Friend Helen Goodman has suggested she will not call for a Division? Given the scope of the issues addressed by the amendments, will he confirm that the commission the Government will set up will not do a rush job, but will be comprehensive and take all the time it needs to look in detail at all the issues? As the Minister rightly points out, these are not simple issues, and if there are going to be changes—I am not convinced about that—we must not have changes that do not stand the test of time.
While we are discussing these amendments on Report, I will limit my remarks, or else I think Mr Deputy Speaker will call me out of order. The issues are, indeed, complex. There is a limited range of solutions, and they are well known, but we must make sure that we have thought through the consequences, particularly pertaining to how this House operates. That is why the Government will set up a commission to look into these issues. Perhaps on Third Reading, Mr Deputy Speaker will allow me to say a little more about that, and allow Members to ask questions about the written ministerial statement I tabled yesterday.
The Minister refers to this being very complex. Why, therefore, did the Government not set up this commission a year ago? Will he apologise to the House for the fact that the Government did not set it up a year ago, and will he confirm that the reason why it was not set up was because it was blocked by the Liberal Democrats?
The Minister is again proving my earlier point about how fleet of foot he is in staying in bounds while also covering his brief very well. I take his word for it that previous Administrations may not have been as noble as his Government in that they often did not produce proposed legislation in draft form and instead went straight to the presentation of a Bill. That does not strengthen the argument for making the presentation of Bill stage the point at which a statement must be published however, because a less scrupulous Government than one in which the Minister would be willing to serve might seek to get round things by not having a draft consultation stage and instead going straight to presentation of the Bill.
I shall address that point later, but for now let me say that when we publish legislation, we already publish territorial extent clauses. I have a couple of examples to share with the House that demonstrate why these amendments are unnecessary because we already do what they suggest we should do, and inserting them into the Bill would open up the possibility of court interference in how this House operates.
I imagine the commission will look at the experience in respect of
You are always very quick to keep Members in order, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I was about to resist the temptation offered by my hon. Friend and instead ask him if he would permit me to come back to the point. I do not have to ask him now as Mr Deputy Speaker has instructed me not to address it now. We touched on this point in the written statement I tabled yesterday, and I will flesh it out on Third Reading.
Returning to the points the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife made on the amendments, we will not support them because they widen the scope of the Bill significantly and are therefore not just technical in nature. It is helpful that the Opposition have tabled them, because they have demonstrated, as I started to say, why this legislative approach is likely not to be the solution to the West Lothian question—this was the point suggested by my hon. Friend Mr Leigh. If the West Lothian question is about how this House legislates, any solution will probably have to be carried out through Standing Orders so that this House remains in control of it rather than the courts being permitted to start interfering, which is the last thing we want.
Having dealt with the amendments as whole, let me turn now, briefly, to amendment 6, which defines legislation as both primary and secondary legislation. It is worth making the point that there is no need to include secondary legislation because it is made by virtue of the powers given to Ministers in primary legislation.
This is a very important point. If I understand it rightly, the Minister seems to be saying that the West Lothian question cannot be dealt with by legislation because that would be subject to interference by the courts, and that it should be dealt with by Standing Orders. That is where we are going now, is it? The Minister is speaking on behalf of the Government on this incredibly important issue. Are we moving towards a process by which the Government will move a motion through the House to amend Standing Orders to deal with the West Lothian question? Is that what he is saying?
No, that is not what I am saying. I am saying that it is a complex matter and I shall say a little more on Third Reading, when I am permitted, about the commission. I am simply saying that a statutory solution is unlikely to work because if a statutory solution were to touch on the legislative process and legislation, which is what Members are interested in, as opposed to draft legislation, it would open up the proceedings of this House to the courts—this is exactly why my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire wisely kept the scope of her Bill to draft legislation. That is not something that Members want to do and if we proposed to do that, I am sure that the Clerk of the House would give evidence to the Committees of this House to point out the great risks of that approach, as has happened before. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough is in danger of jumping forward, and I suspect we can have a little more debate on this matter on Third Reading without my risking the danger of being ruled out of order.
On amendment 6, as I was saying, secondary legislation can have only the same territorial extent as the powers set out in primary legislation, so that aspect of the amendment is not really necessary. Amendments 8 and 14 are fairly minor in detail so I do not propose to refer to them.
Overall, the amendments are not necessary. It is worth discussing one thing, however, because it is relevant to the amendments. The amendments widen the scope of the Bill to cover legislation and I want briefly to remind Members—this was touched on, briefly, by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, and I will not dwell too long on individual Bills as you will rule me out of order, Mr Deputy Speaker—that when Ministers publish legislation they already have accompanying provisions on extent. We set out in the territorial extent clauses in the legislation which clauses and schedules apply to which legal jurisdiction. There is also a territorial extent section in the explanatory notes that accompany all Bills that describes the extent provisions in more detail in a more narrative form, explaining which parts apply to each part of the United Kingdom. If Bills have an effect on finances and Barnett consequentials, those are set out when legislation is put before the House.
So that Members have a better idea, let me give one or two short examples. The Health and Social Care Bill had a fairly detailed territorial extent clause. The default position was that the Bill extended to England and Wales, but certain parts of the Bill extended to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, some to England and Wales and Northern Ireland, and some to England and Wales and Scotland. There was more detail in the explanatory notes, which set out which parts of the Bill they were. For example, part 2 of the Bill abolished the Health Protection Agency, a body with a UK-wide remit, so those clauses were UK-wide. Others referred to special administration procedures that were UK-wide. The clause is legal and technical but describes in some detail how the Bill applies to each part of the United Kingdom.
As Pete Wishart said, the reason he and his colleagues are able to consider legislation and make a decision about which ones they chose to speak and vote on is that they can look at the territorial extent clauses and make that judgment.
The hon. Gentleman touches on another point: although this House has, through the devolution settlement, passed the power to legislate in certain areas to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly, it is still possible for the House to legislate in those areas. The House has said that it will do that with the consent of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, which is exactly what happens. It is possible for this House to legislate in areas that are devolved if it goes through that consultative process and secures the agreement of the devolved legislatures.
Does that not highlight the problem with the reverse situation highlighted in the Bill? There is no way in which MPs for England could express their consent for Scottish MPs in this House voting on English-only measures, unless we had some kind of English-only Parliament. That shows, does it not, how we cannot have a situation in which MPs from outside England are in some way barred from voting on matters that are said to affect England only.
The hon. Gentleman is leaping into solution space, but he is right. I agreed with one thing he said in an exchange with my hon. Friend Mr Nuttall, when he referred to the so-called West Lothian question. That was helpful as the West Lothian question is called that because it was raised by the then Member for West Lothian, but we are really talking about how we deal with legislating for England in a country that has devolution. That is not very catchy, and if any Members can think of a more catchy way of describing the West Lothian question that encapsulates its nature in a way that will resonate with people, they could perhaps suggest it to me.
Let me give one more straightforward example of an extent clause. It was in a Bill for which I was responsible, which is now an Act of Parliament: the well-supported Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011. The Act applied for the most part throughout the United Kingdom, with a limited exception. Part of schedule 3 extended only to Great Britain and one part extended only to Northern Ireland as a result of the different electoral arrangements. It had a very short extent section but meant that Members were very clear about where it had effect.
I hope I have set out for the House why we do not support the amendments. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland has already said that she will not press them to a vote, but this has been a helpful debate to flesh out some of the concerns about this approach. She has done the House a service through her amendments, as has my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire by allowing the House to debate these important matters.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Let me start my remarks by reassuring Opposition Members about a number of things that are not in the Bill and that—surprise, surprise—both the BBC and The Guardian occasionally misreport things. I want to reassure everyone here that I am a whole-hearted supporter of the Union. I have referred before in the Chamber to the memory of my late, lamented grandmother, Flora McLean McLeod Morison, from the Isle of Skye, and I think that that will go a long way towards reassuring everybody what a strong supporter I am of the Union, being a physical embodiment of it myself.
I also want to reassure everybody that I support the trajectory that we have been on over the past 10 or 15 years in terms of devolution. I think that all decisions, as we are seeing with the Localism Bill, should be made at the lowest possible level in terms of the people whom they affect. That brings democracy close to the people who are affected by laws, so I am wholeheartedly in favour of devolution. I also want to reassure Opposition Members that there is nothing in my Bill that would create two classes of MP. That has been a characteristic of previous attempts by colleagues to resolve this question, but that situation is clearly not acceptable. We cannot have an answer that relies on two classes of MP at Westminster, and the Bill deliberately avoids anything along those lines.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the constructive way in which she is presenting her Bill, but if she does not want to create two classes of MP, what is the purpose of certifying legislation in this way? What would happen if a Bill were stated to be English only? Why is she saying this, if she is not expecting MPs in some way to be disbarred from taking part in discussions and voting on such issues? What is the purpose behind her Bill?
My hon. Friend makes an erudite point, and I shall no doubt refer to
I completely agree with the Minister that this matter should be framed as an English question. Clearly, it is an unfinished piece of constitutional business that the devolution settlement has allowed a situation in which English matters increasingly come before the Chamber and are voted on by MPs from all parts of the United Kingdom.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Lady on getting so far with this Bill, but does she have any explanation why the sole Conservative MP from Scotland has voted on English-only legislation? The Academies Bill, the Education Bill and the Health and Social Care Bill have all been voted on by the one Conservative MP from Scotland. Does she think that he is setting a good example?
I think the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my right hon. Friend David Mundell, sets an absolutely marvellous example in all respects, as one would expect me to say. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who represents the Scottish nationalists, will be delighted with the Scotland Bill that my right hon. Friend is helping to bring forward in this Parliament; he is being very uncharitable to my right hon. Friend.
This is an urgent problem that needs to be resolved in this Parliament. To make my point, I need refer colleagues and Opposition Members back only as far the last general election when, as we know, no party got an overall majority in this Parliament and there were negotiations between not only the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties but between the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats. At that time, there was talk of a rainbow coalition of parties that might come together at Westminster, and I remember the upsurge of resentment in the correspondence that I received as a representative of what I like to think of as the heart of England about how completely undemocratic it would be to have a situation in which English-only legislation came through the House relying for support on a majority of MPs from other parts of the United Kingdom.
Is not this getting to the heart of the issue, because the logic of what the hon. Lady is saying is that if that situation had developed, some MPs should not have been allowed to vote on England-only matters? This is not just about a certificate; she is going down the road of trying to bar MPs from outside England voting on such issues. That is very divisive to the whole nature of this House and the constitution.
I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the wording in the Bill: there is nothing in it that would prevent him from continuing to vote on English matters, should he so choose. However, if a piece of legislation came forward and he could be confident, as a result of this Bill, that the measures in it would have no effect whatever on his constituents, he might feel comfortable writing to his constituents and saying, “Having looked closely at this piece of legislation, I feel comfortable that I might abstain from voting on it.”
The hon. Lady has mentioned the upsurge of resentment in the correspondence that she got about a system that might come into place. Does she understand the outrage in Scotland about the fact that 83% of people did not vote for David Cameron to be Prime Minister, yet the Scots are now stuck with him?
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on having proceeded this far with her Bill. Does she accept that if the Bill became law, we could introduce measures that would protect England without barring any Member from voting on legislation? I refer to the idea put forward by my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind and others for a double majority system in which Bills that applied only to one territorial part of the United Kingdom would require the support both of the whole House and of Members from that territorial part in order to be passed.
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct; there has been a substantial body of work looking at exactly how to resolve this question without creating the completely impossible situation of having two classes of MP.
An interesting point is developing here. I wonder whether the hon. Lady is considering not voting on the Government’s Scotland Bill, in line with what she is saying, and whether the Government are looking to have the support of a majority of Scottish Members for the Scotland Bill before it receives Royal Assent.
The hon. Lady points out precisely why it is so important to resolve in this Parliament some of those complex constitutional issues. There will be others, I am sure, who will refer to the problems of the other House and the fact that there is draft legislation currently in this place about reforms to that House. There might be consequences for that piece of legislation as well.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way such a lot—this is a very important Bill for us all. Is her position really that if a Bill affects one part of the UK, it should not be supported if the majority of MPs from that part of the UK are not behind it?
My position is an English position. As a representative of an English constituency, I think that an increasingly large amount of the legislation that comes before the House affects England only and that if the House continues not to tackle this issue, it will increasingly become an issue that our constituents find extremely distressing.
The hon. Lady is doing a superb job of not falling into the trap that some of her colleagues fall into of simply being anti-Scottish or very bad losers. Does she accept, however, that large chunks of legislation, such as the measures concerning the Olympics, affect only one region of England? Is she saying that her ultimate goal is that only MPs from the affected regions should be allowed to vote on such measures—I am looking at the Minister, because I am pretty sure that a Bill went through recently that specifically affected his region—or will it be a case of Worcestershire imposing itself on London?
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that nothing is further from my intention than to revisit the regional question, which was so resoundingly defeated by the voters of the north-east as a complete white elephant. I am talking about England—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands what we mean by England—and I am talking about issues that increasingly come before this Chamber that refer just to England.
I want to thank colleagues, the Minister and those who worked so hard on the Bill in Committee for allowing us to reach the stage in the debate where I can reiterate what the Bill does. It essentially does three things. In developing those three things, it has drawn on the work of those much wiser, more experienced and more eminent than myself. I am a mere new Member of the House, so I was able to benefit from learning about the recommendations that have come through a couple of sources. Let me start by reading from the recommendations of the Justice Committee in the previous Parliament.
In 2009, the Justice Committee prepared a report called, “Devolution: A Decade On.” In its conclusions and recommendations, it said:
“The question of whether England-only legislation can be more clearly demarcated from other legislation has to be resolved if any scheme of English votes for English laws is to work.”
I do not understand what the problem is. Why should there be any difficulty for the Government in recreating our old Standing Orders to allow us to demarcate legislation as English? We used to do it with Scottish legislation; why can we not do it with English legislation? It could be done in five minutes.
My hon. Friend makes a perfectly valid point, but I will speak about some of the other recommendations of the Justice Committee, which are relevant to some of the other clauses in my Bill:
“Even if legislation could be more clearly distinguished, the current system of territorial financing in the UK post-devolution means that the levels of public finance decided for England determine levels of resource allocation to Scotland and Wales. While we agree that the system could be changed in order to remove this effect, such a change would be a necessary prerequisite”.
I have taken a slightly different approach in this piece of legislation, which is to spell out on the face of the draft legislation what impact the Government think it might have on the Barnett formula and any successor formula. That would allow hon. Members who represent the Scottish National party to look at the legislation and reassure themselves, for example if there were no financial consequences, that they could have their hand strengthened in some way in their practice—which was mentioned earlier by Thomas Docherty—of not voting on legislation that does not affect their constituents.
On that important point, High Speed 2 has been mentioned. Obviously that issue affects England, but the financial consequentials might be to the tune of £2 billion, which would make me very keen to be involved. It would be of great help to a Welsh Conservative MP, therefore, to have that information on the face of the draft legislation.
Does not the issue of HS2 illustrate how impractical and divisive this attempt to divide the House would be, even if only in terms of indicating where a Bill applies? The legislation on HS2 may appear to affect only England, with trains going to Manchester and Liverpool, but the trains, hopefully, will go north to Scotland, and will also go to north Wales. In many areas it is not possible to make a simple division into Scotland-only and English-only Bills. It would divide the House and divide the way in which it operates.
I am not saying, am I, that a lot of legislation will have those characteristics, but some legislation will, and there will be more and more of it as we devolve more and more powers to other parts of the UK. So why not know about that when such legislation comes before the House? Indeed, as the hon. Gentleman points out with his example, there may well be knock-on consequences for other parts of the UK, in which case that would be very apparent to him.
I was mentioning some of the eminent minds that have informed the Bill. I also drew heavily on a piece of work that was done by the Conservative party in opposition. My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke is now Secretary of State for Justice, but in those days he chaired the democracy taskforce. He prepared a committee that included my hon. Friends the Members for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) and for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) and none other than our distinguished Leader of the House. They came up with recommendations for dealing with the democratic deficit on this constitutional issue.
One suggestion was that Standing Orders might be used. Some of the examples given mentioned
The Bill is designed to address that challenge for the Speaker, because we would certainly not want to politicise the Chair. Goodness me, this is so far above my pay grade that I feel I should not be trespassing on these areas at all, but the provision of more information in draft legislation would make it easier for the Speaker to use his powers or to allow the House to agree changes recommended by the Procedure Committee in 1999— I am sure the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife will allude to that in a moment—to alter some of the Standing Orders to allow certification of Bills as applying to other parts of the UK.
It is always comforting to hear that some Conservative MPs have the best interests of the Speaker at heart. Surely the role of the Speaker is to be the impartial judge. I suggest that there is the possibility of a Secretary of State having a vested interest in ruling one way or the other whether or not all MPs should be allowed to vote on a piece of legislation. That would be most unsatisfactory, would it not?
That is why my Bill gives much more ample time for pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft legislation setting out these issues, and setting out very clearly whether there are any financial implications. I am sure that as the hon. Gentleman is a member of the Procedure Committee, he has looked at those 1999 recommendations.
I shall now speak about the news that we got yesterday. I take the opportunity to welcome very warmly the announcement that the Minister made yesterday that he is about to establish at long last a commission to examine the West Lothian question. Throughout these proceedings, the Minister has been exemplary in recognising that the Government need to look at that issue. As we know, he is an extremely busy Minister, and he has had a number of other pieces of crucial legislation to get through. I have asked myself on occasions when the commission might be established. We got a little more information in yesterday’s written ministerial statement, but if I may, I shall take the opportunity to ask the Minister some detailed questions about how he anticipates the questions left unanswered by his statement might be resolved.
The statement referred to the commission being established in the weeks following the return of Parliament in October. The Minister has also spoken about his intention to set up the commission by the end of 2011. Colleagues have heard that said many times. I think we can deduce that we will have an announcement of the commission between our return in October and
Secondly, what will be the commission’s instructions about its timetable for reporting? I acknowledge that the Minister has been busy steering a lot of legislation through the House, but I am worried that it has taken until now to receive a written ministerial statement about the commission’s establishment. When the commission is established before the end of the year, what instructions will he give it about reporting back? Specifically, will it report before the end of the Session, so that any legislation required to put in place its recommendations may be included in the next Queen’s Speech? I do not think that we know when the next Queen’s Speech will be, but we have a hunch that it might be some time around May.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her role in pushing the Government finally to produce the written ministerial statement. Our hon. Friend the Minister is no doubt sympathetic to her aims and mine, but I suspect that our absent colleagues—the Liberal Democrats, who are not in the Chamber—are the ones who have delayed substantial progress on the issue. Were it not for the Bill, I doubt that we would have received the ministerial statement at all.
I would not want to make that sort of statement. The Minister has been extremely busy, and I know that a commitment to set up a commission to examine the West Lothian question was in the coalition programme for government. However, we will want to hear from the Minister when the commission is likely to report.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on piloting her Bill to this stage. Does she share my disappointment that the commission will not deal with financial matters? Given her excellent knowledge in this area, will she hold discussions with the Government to find out more about the “various processes” led by Treasury Ministers that are described in the statement, because it is the financial disparities that cause most concern to my constituents, because they observe that, over the past 25 years, there has been a £200 billion subsidy to other parts of the United Kingdom from this country?
My hon. Friend asks a sensible question. Her point explains precisely why my Bill would provide that any impact on the Barnett formula or any successor should be spelled out. We have heard fine examples today that show that Opposition Members will lose no opportunity to suggest ways in which English-only legislation could affect their constituents, such as because it might have hidden, knock-on financial implications of which they are not aware. I am sure that the Minister will want to address my hon. Friend’s good question.
It would be helpful to hear more information about the commission’s terms of reference, because yesterday’s statement was clear about those things that it will not cover. In addition, how will it take evidence? Will it sit in public? Will it be a body to which everyone can volunteer to give evidence? Who will chair it, because there is a fairly small number of people who fit the narrow definition of those who should serve on it?
While the hon. Lady is talking about membership of the commission, does she believe that it is absolutely imperative that that must include someone with a working knowledge of the Parliaments and Assemblies of the United Kingdom, so that they can advise about possible knock-on consequences? She mentioned financial points, but there could be others, so it is imperative that someone on the commission has full knowledge of the Parliaments, legislatures and Assemblies of the UK.
The hon. Gentleman raises important questions, and we will want to know who will serve on the commission.
If the commission recommends changes to procedure, will they be binding on us, or will we have the opportunity to debate them? How will its recommendations fit in with the draft Bill on changes to the other place, because that could involve important consequences? When we have raised the West Lothian question over the past few months, I have been concerned that some ministerial replies have linked it to the proposed changes to membership of the other place. Whatever one’s view of those changes, we all agree that they are unlikely to be made quickly. During this Parliament, the resolution of the West Lothian question, to use today’s shorthand—or the English question—is more urgent than reform of the other Chamber, so I would not want progress on this issue to be delayed due to the necessarily slow progress of legislation to reform the other place.
I reiterate that the Minister has been exceptionally helpful and insightful, and while I welcome yesterday’s announcement about the commission’s establishment, the written ministerial statement contained a lot of unanswered questions. I therefore again ask the crucial question whether any legislation that might be required to enact the commission’s recommendations will be in the next Queen’s Speech. We cannot delay dealing with this point for much longer. If the commission recommends legislative changes, they need to be in the next Queen’s Speech, so that they can be tackled in the next parliamentary Session. As we have heard, these complex issues will require time for consideration, but following the process, I would want any necessary changes to tackle the remaining unanswered English constitutional issues to be in place before the next general election. The Bill has already had an impact.
The hon. Lady makes a compelling argument in support of her position, but she has not addressed the position of Secretaries of State and Ministers. As part of the process that she wishes to put in place, does she think that Members of this House and the other place who are considered to be Scottish, Welsh or from Northern Ireland should not be allowed to serve as Ministers in a Department or, if they are Ministers, to vote on their own Department’s legislation?
I am sure that the commission will want to consider that important question. I have proposed a modest approach, so the hon. Gentleman is asking a question that is way above my pay grade. My Bill contains a modest suggestion that is based on the accumulated wisdom of the democracy taskforce and those members of the Justice Committee at the time of its 2009 report.
I know that the Minister is aware of the controversy about which I have spoken, given his intention to address the matter through the commission, but even if he cannot give us a complete answer today, we will all want to hear from him that there is a sense of urgency about resolving the situation during this Parliament. I remind colleagues that the Bill is the only vehicle available for hon. Members who want this great constitutional issue to be addressed. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s replies to my questions but, for the time being, I commend the Bill to the House.
I am grateful to have caught your eye on Third Reading, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I commend Harriett Baldwin on having her Bill reach this stage. I suspect that if her colleagues in the Government had expected it to get this far, they might have taken an interest in publishing the commission paper slightly earlier than yesterday afternoon, but as a mere Opposition MP, I cannot comment on the exact machinations that led the Deputy Prime Minister suddenly—yesterday afternoon, on the eve of this debate—to publish his West Lothian commission paper, which we will return to.
I am a sceptic, not about why the Bill was brought forward, or about the motivation of the hon. Member for West Worcestershire, but about the motivations of many of her colleagues, who are, frankly, in my view, just really bad losers. Since the mid-1950s, the vote of what is currently called the Conservative party in Scotland has collapsed. It is worth noting that if Mr Murdo Fraser MSP gets his way, there genuinely will be no Scottish Conservative politicians in Scotland. Pete Wishart and I were just reminiscing, because we served our parties, alongside Mr Fraser, in North Tayside, as it was then called, in 2001. Murdo has been consistent in his views about an effectively autonomous Scottish Conservative party.
The whole debate comes back to the fact that the Conservatives could not win a raffle in Scotland. As a result of the way in which their policies have gone down, and because they opposed devolution in 1997—and probably right through until about 2007 or 2008—they have lost the support of the Scottish people. Unfortunately for the Conservative party, which claims to be staunchly Unionist, and a staunch defender of the United Kingdom and its parliamentary system, it does not like the fact that one part of the United Kingdom consistently votes against it. It is worth noting the work of Guto Bebb—I congratulate him on it—in helping to rebuild the Welsh Conservative party. [Interruption.] Sorry, there are two Welsh Conservative MPs here. As a Scottish MP, the concept of there being two Conservatives from a devolved Administration area is baffling. In fact, I think that there are eight now.
My hon. Friend is being unfair; at least one of the hon. Gentlemen on the Conservative Benches has helped to revive two parties in Wales in his political activities. On the point about the Scottish Conservative party, is not the interesting point about the logic of the Bill of Harriett Baldwin that she appears to be saying that a measure should not really apply to a part of the UK if it does not have majority support in that part of the UK? What about the Budget, for example? Does that mean that the UK Budget would not apply in Scotland unless the majority of Scottish MPs decided it would, and would the same go in Wales and Northern Ireland?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I suspect that Mr Fraser would like to have that debate. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire is a sensible man—on occasion he is a Dunfermline Athletic fan, and he played in a half-decent band, so he has occasional good judgment—but I disagree with him and Mr Fraser, because Scottish Conservatives, as such, now believe in full fiscal autonomy, it would appear. My hon. Friend Mark Lazarowicz is absolutely right: under that proposal, there would be separate Budgets from the Chancellor for those measures that apply to Scotland only, and those that apply to the rest of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for West Worcestershire talked about her great desire, which I think is genuine, to have decisions made at the lowest level of government. I notice—I went out and checked—that in proceedings on the Scotland Bill, she voted not to devolve power over the railways to the Scottish Parliament; that did not quite seem to fit with her logic. I suspect that there are several other cases where Conservatives claim to believe in giving greater power to Scotland, but in proceedings on the Scotland Bill have voted against doing that. I am sure that that was simply an oversight on her part, and not an inconsistency in approach.
Lots of Bills that pass through this House, or begin up the other end of the Corridor, appear on the face of it to be England-only, or England-and-Wales-only, but have clauses inserted by the Government—or have Back Benchers on either side of the House, or our Front Benchers, attempt to insert a clause—that would apply to the whole United Kingdom. I shall give one simple example. The rules for election to the Scottish Parliament are set by this place. We determine the boundaries, and the age at which people can vote in those elections. That is clearly a matter that affects only Scotland. I cannot possibly see how that would be anything other than a matter for the Scottish people; I would be grateful if hon. Members could point out a flaw in that thinking. However, as that is part of the Scotland Bill, I think that the argument of the hon. Member for West Worcestershire would still be that she, an English MP, would vote on the Scotland Bill, and on each part and clause of it, because the Bill would have been categorised by the Secretary of State as a Bill that impacts on multiple territories. I regret to tell the hon. Lady that that inconsistency means that her Bill is not perfectly formed.
The hon. Gentleman asked Members to intervene; I will, and I am prepared to concede that I should not be allowed to vote on the Scottish Bill, or on anything to do with Scotland, if he will concede never to vote on anything to do exclusively with England.
I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I do not believe in that logic. I believe in the United Kingdom. I hear repeatedly from Government parties, “I believe in the United Kingdom”. Unlike the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, who is a proud separatist and supporter of independence, I believe that we are stronger together. Under our system, we are elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. If the Government parties wish to create an English Parliament or Assembly—I am not a supporter of regional assemblies, and I welcome the decision of the people of north-east England overwhelmingly to reject a regional assembly—they should bring forward that legislation. That is not what they told people at the election.
As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am studying for a history degree from the Open university, and the course that I have just finished is about colonial medicine. I have to say to the hon. Member for Aberconwy that some of the policies for the health service that the Secretary of State for Wales wishes to introduce very much remind me of colonial medicine in the 19th century. Perhaps that is what my colleagues in the Welsh Labour party were referring to.
We have an imperfect system, and I do not think that anybody believes that the system that we have created is the finished product. It was never intended, in the 1990s, to be the finished system. The hon. Member for West Worcestershire was frank enough to say that she does not necessarily provide answers to the problem; she has merely sought to pose questions today.
It might be helpful to many Conservative Members if I explain that West Lothian is a part of Scotland just outside Edinburgh. If they had been here for the excellent maiden speech of my hon. Friend Graeme Morrice, they would have heard a good account of the large section of it that he represents. I am conscious that many Conservative Members have never had the opportunity to come to Scotland; they really should, if they get the chance, come up and see it. We are hosting some of the Olympic games next year.
On the West Lothian commission that is to be established, will the Minister undertake that the commission will also look at arrangements in the other place—an issue that the hon. Member for West Worcestershire touched on? I would be fascinated to learn how the Government intend to designate Scottish, Welsh or English peers. The most obvious example is the Leader of the House of Lords, Lord Strathclyde; I am not particularly aware that he has a Scottish connection of note.
I suspect that we might provide the hon. Gentleman with a list of some of the peers whom we would like to repatriate. I would not suggest for a second that any of my colleagues would be on that list.
Does the House believe that if someone who represented a Scottish constituency went to the other place they would be a Scottish Member of Parliament? Are they Scottish because their title is Scottish? Is it because they once visited Gretna Green, which I think is the qualification of some people who have served in the Scotland Office? Those issues need to be dealt with by the West Lothian commission, in addition to the matters raised by the hon. Member for West Worcestershire.
The most obvious issue that we need to deal with concerns Ministers. Going back to the point made by the hon. Member for Aberconwy—and I am not too familiar with the thinking of my Welsh Labour colleagues on this—as the result, I believe, of an oversight at the election, Mrs Gillan did not stand for a Welsh constituency; she represents an English constituency. The Prime Minister has eight very able Welsh Conservative MPs from whom to choose a Welsh Secretary—[ Interruption ]—and some Liberal Democrat MPs as well. However, we have an England-based Secretary of State.
The thinking of the Labour party in Wales seems to be that it is perfectly fine for Welsh Labour Members to be Ministers and make decisions that affect England, but that it is not acceptable for the Prime Minister to appoint an English MP to serve in Wales. It is that dual standard that annoys people. Ultimately, we have to deal with the issue, because the threat to the Union will come not from Wales but from disgruntled members of the electorate in England. That is the issue that we must face.
You are absolutely right, Mr Deputy Speaker. An issue that has not quite been covered in the Third Reading of the Legislation (Territorial Extent) Bill is the question of what is in the minds of members of the Welsh Labour party. It is not for me to comment—that is one of the benefits of devolution—but it is valid to ask what would happen if a Secretary of State signed off a Bill but effectively said, “This is my Bill; I am not going to vote for it.” In December, as the Liberal Democrats raced through the 17 different positions that they tried to adopt on tuition fees, at one point there was a suggestion that the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills would not vote on his own legislation, which would have been completely absurd. Under the Bill—and this is an issue that the commission must address—we must consider what would happen if, as we have seen in the past, a Secretary of State introduces legislation in which they do not have any constituency interest within the four nations of the United Kingdom, never mind the question of how we define England.
I must challenge the hon. Member for West Worcestershire on what she said about understanding England. As hon. Members can tell from my accent, I did not have the privilege of a Scottish education. I was brought up in west Cumbria, and I can assure the hon. Lady that the people of west Cumbria do not believe that she understands their problems or what is best for them. I am pretty sure that my hon. Friend Mr Anderson would suggest that the Conservative party does not have a Scooby about the issues in the north-east of England.
I am pretty sure, Mr Deputy Speaker—of course, you are entirely impartial—that other constituencies in the north of England would suggest that Conservatives do not understand them. Equally, I have heard Government Members suggest that the Labour party does not understand parts of their country. The notion that we have a single, homogenous England in all its pleasant greenness with a perfect political structure is wrong. Regrettably, that goes back to the argument about regional assemblies.
In the past few days, we have dealt with infrastructure projects. My right hon. Friend Stephen Timms and others have discussed the Olympics, and we have discussed Crossrail in the past. The Crossrail Bill contained many provisions that related purely to London and nearby railway lines, yet it underwent a contentious, long, laborious process. It took two years, I think, to introduce that Bill, with the support of Members from Worcestershire, Dunfermline, Berwick, Edinburgh and other areas. That was the right thing to do but, regrettably, under the Legislation (Territorial Extent) Bill—and I suspect that this will be something that the commission will examine—such issues would not be dealt with. If there is a proposal to bulldoze large parts of London, the decision on whether that is right or wrong should, under the logic of the argument that the hon. Lady and other hon. Members have sought to generate, be made by London MPs.
My recollection is that most members of the Committee that considered the Crossrail Bill were from Scotland. I think that we were being punished by the Whips for an earlier rebellion. The Crossrail issue may have been a concern for London MPs, but the Crossrail issue was important for the entire UK, and not just because of the costs. People can fly to Heathrow or take a train to King’s Cross, where they may wish to travel on to France: those issues were integral to the Crossrail proposals, and are very much an illustration of why we cannot take measures that appear to be just English, as they go much wider than people may accept.
My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a compelling argument. Indeed, as an ex-lawyer he does so much better than I ever could.
It is all about interpretation. Many people in London with strong feelings about the Crossrail Bill would have said that it had nothing to do with Members from other parts of the United Kingdom. It is, to some extent, in the eye of the beholder.
Turning to the suggestion of the hon. Member for West Worcestershire about the Secretary of State, she is a rational and reasonable individual and is a supporter of the Speaker, but it is possible that some of her colleagues are not so rational or have swivel eyes and are anti-Speaker. The measure is not designed to help the Speaker: it is about fixing the board for the game. Surely, it is in a Secretary of State’s interest, one way or the other, to determine for the benefit of their own party or of the coalition whether or not MPs of other nations should be allowed to vote.
If we are to have such a system—and there has been some discussion of
I apologise. It just goes to show the benefits of living in a United Kingdom; otherwise I would not be learning that geography lesson.
Under that rule, the Speaker makes the decision. You would, Mr Deputy Speaker, pull me up if I followed the example of my hon. Friend Chris Bryant and gave seven centuries’ worth of history on the role of the Speaker and how it has changed—and, indeed, the excellent role of the Chairman of Ways and Means and how it has changed in the past 700 years. The Speaker’s role is to be an impartial judge. To give a simple example, let us say for the sake of argument that Mr Murdo Fraser becomes leader of this new party. If he wants a name for a party that supports the Conservatives at that level, that backs Tory policies but is not officially Tory, I must counsel him that the title, “Liberal Democrats”, has already been taken, so he will have to think of another one. If Mr Fraser’s new party were to win 27 of the 51 or 52 seats that there will be in Scotland at the next general election, but thanks to the work of my right hon. Friend Edward Miliband, we were to sweep to power at the next general election, it might well be possible—
Order. I am sure the hon. Gentleman wants to come back to the Bill and mention that a little more. We are drifting all round the country from Doncaster to the history of the Chairman of Ways and Means. I can assure him that the post is not 700 years old, but we do not want to get into a debate like that, do we? We want to stick to Third Reading, as I know the hon. Gentleman is now going to do.
Order. The hon. Gentleman should not tempt me. I do not need to wait for the last sentence. I was listening to the previous 20 sentences, which also led me to believe that the hon. Gentleman had gone off the Bill.
I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker, for your kind words, as ever.
Under the powers in the Bill, it is possible that one of my right hon. Friends, as Secretary of State for Education, might seek to exclude the 26 or 27 Scottish progressives or whatever they are called from legislation in order to get a majority. It is possible that the reverse might be true. There are Bills or parts of Bills that apply to Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, where the current Government—not under the leadership of the Minister or his colleagues, but under some other Secretary or State—might seek to use this Bill to exclude Members unfairly in order to get legislation through. That is why the idea that, under the Bill, the Secretary of State should be the person who decides which pieces of legislation are English only, Welsh only or English and Welsh only is both ludicrous and loaded.
It is disappointing that the Bill does not seek to answer the question how Select Committees or oral questions will work. It is reasonable for Government Members to take a great interest in Scottish questions. We are always touched by the number of Conservatives who table questions relating to Scotland, but the Bill does not seek to deal with the fact that English MPs are scrutinising—
Order. As hon. Members know, the Bill is not about questions. It is about legislation, and we will stick to speaking about legislation on Third Reading.
I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker. Obviously, when at Question Time we are debating proposed Government legislation, it will still be perfectly in order, as I understand it, for Members on both sides of the House to challenge the Secretary of State about that, even if it does not cover their territories. The same is true of Select Committees, which do an excellent job of examining legislation as it is going through. I have the privilege of serving on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which is an interesting Committee not only because of the policy matter, but because some of that applies to the whole United Kingdom and some to devolved areas, such as Scotland. The lines are blurred.
We have been having a big debate about the future of fisheries policy and the common agricultural policy. That will require legislation in future. I know, for example, that some Members on both sides are in favour of pulling out of the common fisheries policy. I will not be drawn into that argument, but the Select Committee will clearly consider the issue. Does that apply to Scotland, to England or to the United Kingdom as a whole? I do not see how the Bill, as well meaning as the hon. Member for West Worcestershire intended it to be, deals with how we can still scrutinise matters through Select Committees and put together reports that could be fairly damning, but not carry out similar scrutiny on the Floor of the House.
The Bill could have another effect which I am sure was never intended. It is my understanding that if a major piece of legislation falls in this place, that is regarded historically as a vote of no confidence in the Government. There is a perfectly reasonable suggestion to be made that as a result of this Bill, a health Bill, for example, which was a substantive piece of legislation and did not command the support of the membership of the party in England, could be defeated. Would that therefore automatically be seen as the trigger for a no confidence motion? That has not been dealt with adequately in the Bill. I hope the Minister will give us some guidance on his thinking and whether the West Lothian question could tackle the issue.
Let me respond to that invitation. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the excellent Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, which despite the Opposition’s support for that in principle, they seem inadvertently to be opposing, sets out the procedures for no confidence motions and motions of confidence in the House, so my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire has been spared the need to do that in her Bill.
I am grateful. I know that there is a Fixed-term Parliaments Bill somewhere, but I do not think it is excellent. I would be well out of line if I were to be drawn down that road.
Another issue that has not been dealt with is where the Legislation (Territorial Extent) Bill would leave the Parliament Acts. If we do not solve the issue of the Lords and how we define an English-only Lord, Bills could be significantly delayed because they cannot command a majority in the other place, even though they do in this place. I will not get sucked into a debate about House of Lords reform, as I would be out of order, but if we allow the Bill to go forward without addressing the issue of the House of Lords, we could have a House of Lords that reflects the UK electoral results, but not the lower House. Ping-pong would inevitably occur. I would be grateful if the Minister set out how the commission will address that and whether he believes that the Bill deals adequately with the issue.
The final question that I shall bring to the attention of the House in the hope that the Minister can provide guidance is what will happen with respect to consultation with outside parties. Representations might be made by devolved Administrations that a future Bill impacts on them. If a Secretary of State picks a narrow definition and says, “No, this applies only to me,” but the three First Ministers all say, “No, we can see a compelling case,” who would have the final say? Would it be the Secretary of State? Does the Minister agree that that issue needs to be worked through as part of the West Lothian question?
I am grateful for your patience, Mr Deputy Speaker, and for your guidance, as ever. I shall now sit down, as I know the Minister has some thoughts to share as well.
Thomas Docherty made an engaging speech, but he did not let the facts get in the way of his argument. I felt a bit sorry for Lord Strathclyde, because he lives in Scotland and is Scottish, so to be described as having no connection with the country will have been a bitter blow. Equally, it was slightly unfair on the rest of us to be told that we knew nothing about Cumbria or Scotland, given that some of us love walking in the lakes and visit Scotland regularly. But there we go!
I was struck by something else that the hon. Gentleman said. He spoke as though the Conservative party invented the West Lothian question—as though it was a sort of Conservative plot. In truth, of course, the question was posed by a Scottish Labour MP, the former Father of the House, Tam Dalyell. He was the one who asked whether it could be right for Scottish Members to vote on English legislation given that English Members had a right to do so on Scottish legislation. Following his speeches during the debates on the Scotland Act 1998, Conservative Members, including Michael Ancram, my right hon. Friend Dr Fox, now the Secretary of State for Defence, and I came up with the policy of English votes for English laws to address the West Lothian question. Since then, the Conservative party has had a great deal of work done on the question—the democracy taskforce has been mentioned—and has come to the conclusion that something could be done to address the problem.
The democracy taskforce looked at the Standing Orders of the House. For many years,
To deal with English legislation, we would simply need to add to
That brings me to my next point. The Standing Order is not written in such a way as to disadvantage one party or another or to be used in a hostile way. It is drafted, and has been in our Standing Orders for many years, in a way that has a bit of common sense. It provides that if there are consequential amendments affecting England, Wales or Northern Ireland, the certificate can be withheld—but it does not have to be. The Speaker has some discretion. Equally, it is not compulsory, under this particular Standing Order for a Bill certified as entirely Scottish to be dealt with by the Scottish Grand Committee—it is discretionary. If the usual channels discussed the matter and decided, “No, this ought to be dealt with by the whole House”, that could happen. We are not as daft as the hon. Gentleman thinks. We would not have Standing Orders so rigid that they could not work and could be used as a tool of war. We have sensible Standing Orders, we are sensible people when it comes to procedure, and I think that the House would be quite capable of dealing with this matter.
I welcome the fact that the Minister is setting up his commission and I welcome the Bill presented by my hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin. It would give a little more room for manoeuvre over controversial measures or measures on the margins of territoriality. With her measure in place, instead of a Bill simply being printed and the Speaker deciding whether to issue a certificate, there would be pre-legislative scrutiny. The Bill would be produced; it would go through its pre-legislative scrutiny; and it would contain a statement by the Secretary of State on his view of the territoriality, the financial aspects and so on. That would give us even more opportunity to ensure that our Standing Orders are not used in a foolish way.
As usual, my hon. Friend gives a very erudite speech. In all the chaff that came from the mouth of Thomas Docherty, however, there was a grain of truth. I must put this to my hon. Friend, because he is one of our leading experts on the matter. If the current system works quite well and if, as we know, we can rely on the Speaker for his impartiality, need we add anything to the process? Need we add the Secretary of State? I make that point because it is important that we debate these matters seriously.
My hon. Friend has taken a great interest in the issue over many years and has great knowledge of constitutional matters. He makes a fair point, and I agree that the proposal may not be necessary. It may be an added extra that introduces complexities in a way that does not help as much as we think. However, that is one of the blessings of the commission, in that it will be able to look at that point—speedily, I hope—and come to a conclusion. It is important that serving on the commission are people who can bring experience and knowledge on this topic. I hope that it will be possible for the Clerk and the senior officials of the House to submit evidence to the commission or to take part in its proceedings, so that expert knowledge is brought to bear on this important point.
Finally, there has been a lot of talk about how if we had English votes for English laws, there would be two sorts of MPs. That is nonsense. When the Scotland provisions were used, nobody ever said that there were two classes of MP; indeed, one could argue that there are two classes of MP at the moment, in the sense that Scottish Members cannot deal with matters that affect their own back yard. The argument is nonsense. We are all elected on the same basis and we have Standing Orders to deal with matters. We have previously had a Scottish procedure; why can we not have an English one?
Let me start by again congratulating Harriett Baldwin on progressing so far with her private Member’s Bill. She has almost single-handedly—or at least more than anyone else—ensured that we will have a long-promised investigation into the West Lothian question by a commission.
Unfortunately I missed the Bill’s Second Reading, but I have spoken in most debates in this House on what is referred to as the West Lothian question. In fact, I have debated it at length with the former Member for West Lothian himself. Indeed, I heard what can only be described as the curmudgeonly tones of Tam Dalyell on the radio yesterday, with his usual doom and gloom about how one could never answer the West Lothian question. I do not think that he sees much hope for the Minister’s commission when we eventually see its work, and that has been his view pretty consistently over the past few years. I have a relatively neat and elegant solution to the West Lothian question: let this Parliament do its business and let our Parliament do its business. Let us come together in a new sense of equality and mutual self-respect. Let us redefine our partnership among the nations of the United Kingdom. In one fell swoop we will have elegantly dealt with all the issues to do with the West Lothian question.
Part of the reason I suggested that we should think of different terms is that the hon. Gentleman has been led down a cul-de-sac. The scenario that he paints is of an independent Scotland. The Government, Government Members and many Members on the Opposition Benches passionately oppose that, as we want to keep the United Kingdom together, but let us say for the sake of argument that it came about. It might solve the West Lothian question, but it would not solve the issue, because it is not a Scottish issue; it is about how we govern England and the relationship between all the devolved nations. This is just as much about Welsh Members of Parliament and Members from Northern Ireland as it is about those from Scotland or England. The nomenclature has led the hon. Gentleman down a cul-de-sac.
I am grateful to the Minister for that. All I can say is: thank goodness that will not be my problem at that point. We will most definitely have dealt with the West Lothian question, because there will no longer be a Member for West Lothian in this House who has a say on English health and education. My solution resolves that one, but I shall leave the Minister in the future—when we manage to secure Scottish independence—to try to resolve those other issues on his own.
As things stand, no Scottish National party Member votes on English-only legislation. We have not done so since 1999, when the Scottish Parliament was established. We are now the only party that does not vote on English-only legislation, because for some bizarre reason the Scottish Conservatives have abandoned that policy. When he was in opposition, David Mundell did not vote on English-only legislation, but the minute the Conservatives got into government he started voting on everything; in fact, I think he has voted on every piece of legislation in this Session that might be certified as English-only. So before the Conservatives go on and on about voting on English-only issues, they should have a quiet word with their one and only Scottish Member, because I do not think that he is setting a particularly good example.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will correct me, but I recall that, during the coalition negotiations, there was a suggestion that there might be an alternative coalition including some Members from the Scottish National party, and that his leader in the Westminster group said that they would start to vote on English-only legislation.
The hon. Gentleman has a better memory than I have, because I cannot recall any such thing being said. I would find it absolutely staggering if we were to take a view on those kinds of issues. The point is that we are the only party in this House that does not vote on English-only legislation. Why do we not do so? I take what I thought was an uncontroversial view on this: if it does not affect my constituents, it is not a matter for me as a Member of Parliament. Surely we are here to represent our constituents. If a piece of legislation has nothing whatever to do with the good people of Perth and North Perthshire, why should I take an interest in it? That is the way in which we should approach these issues when deciding this matter.
This is the kind of nonsense that we get from opponents of the West Lothian question. The logic of the argument seems to be that the Scottish Parliament should not vote on issues affecting only the Western Isles or the highlands of Scotland. In case he does not know, this is about legislatures, about responsibility and about democratic accountability. We have a Scottish Parliament, thank goodness, and we have a Westminster Parliament down here. He takes the view that he should vote on English-only issues. I take the view that it is wrong for me to do so as they do not affect my constituents, which is why I do not do so.
This is to do with language. When colleagues refer to “England-only” measures, they are not really talking about matters that affect only England; they are talking about matters for which the responsibility has been devolved to one of the other legislatures. I think that that answers the question; Pete Wishart is forswearing to vote on matters that have been devolved.
I thank the Minister for getting that absolutely right; I should always get him to answer my questions for me.
I want to make some progress, if I may, and I think that we have probably dealt with that particular issue.
The Scottish National party did not take an interest in the Health and Social Care Bill that was debated here this week, although there were technical and consequential measures in the Bill that were to do with Scotland. Those measures, however, were dealt with by the Scottish Parliament. A legislative consent motion was passed in that Parliament that agreed to allow this House to legislate in that way, so why any Scottish Member should need to vote on that Bill, I do not know. If English Members want to destroy their health service through this part-privatisation, that is a matter for them. I can only say thank goodness that we have an SNP Government in Scotland who will not embark on that kind of nonsense and who will never adopt such a rubbishy part-privatisation approach to the health service there. The Health and Social Care Bill is a matter for English Members. That illustrates the beauty of Tam’s question, posed all those years ago in all its rhetorical glory. Would I like English Members of Parliament trying to impose their view in Scotland? Of course I would not. Scottish Members should therefore give English Members the same respect when it comes to English decisions, however faulty or ridiculous they might be. If English Members want to do that to their health service, that is up to them.
This is a passionate and compelling speech; it is almost bringing tears to my eyes. However, the hon. Gentleman voted on the Bill that introduced tuition fees in England. As the Minister said, the Scottish
Parliament now has powers over such matters, so Pete Wishart, by his own logic, should not have voted on that Bill. Was it not political opportunism, rather than some great principle, that led him to do so?
That is a very good point, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned it. I shall deal with tuition fees at greater length in a moment, because they relate to my concerns about the Bill and the Minister’s proposed commission. If Thomas Docherty will bear with me, I will come back to that point, and if he is unhappy with what I have to say, I will allow him to intervene on me again.
Because of our track record on this matter, we very much welcome the establishment of the commission. This issue really needs to be resolved. Tam asked the question 33 years ago, and it is now time to address it. We proposed something very similar to the hon. Lady’s proposal several years ago, when we suggested that
During the course of the commission’s work, we will again hear all the nonsense that I have heard for 10 years—all the red herrings and the reasons for not acting. We all accept that there is no elegant answer to the West Lothian question while we are part of the Union. There will always be anomalies and further questions—that is the nature of trying to resolve a difficult conundrum when there are devolved legislatures and a sovereign Parliament at Westminster. I have my answer—hon. Members have heard it—but as long as we are part of the Union, there will be anomalies. We will hear all the stuff about two classes of MPs, the sob story about Scottish Members not getting to be Ministers for devolved matters such as health and education, and the suggestion that English Members should not vote on Scottish-only issues such as the Scotland Bill. Those are all red herrings and nonsense—simply obstacles put in the way of dealing with the issue effectively.
I concede that there are already two classes of Members of Parliament. I am a Scottish Member and a good section of what English Members do in the House is devolved to my colleagues in the Scottish Parliament. That immediately sets me apart from English Members. For goodness’ sake, we should just be relaxed about it. Let us accept that we are two classes. All we are doing is simply trying to recalibrate the different types of classes by not allowing Scottish Members to vote on English-only matters. We should simply accept that there are two classes of Members and get on with it.
However, there are problems and concerns for us in the Bill. They mostly come down to certification of what is Scottish-only business. Tuition fees is a very good example because it shows why we have to be careful. There must be a Scottish input into the commission, perhaps from someone who knows about the workings of the legislatures throughout the United Kingdom—for example, former Presiding Officers. There should be good contacts with the Scottish Government, who could alert the commission, or whoever examines the matter, of genuine difficulties and consequences for Scotland. The Bill fails in that respect because it provides only for Secretaries of State to advise the Speaker about certification of the territorial impact of legislation. Perhaps an amendment could be tabled in the other place that would allow the Secretary of State to consult his or her opposite numbers in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that those legislatures are relaxed and happy about the territorial certification of specific measures.
Tuition fees sum up the difficulty for me, and for us all. Tuition fees are nominally English. Under the certification that the Minister and the hon. Member for West Worcestershire have in mind, the Speaker would almost certainly have said that the measure was English only. Yet it was an absolute disaster for Scotland. It was the worst possible type of legislation for us and we therefore voted on tuition fees—I think that all Scottish Members did. I voted on it because the Barnett consequentials were enormous. Scotland will lose a fantastic amount of money if England goes ahead with tuition fees. The measure also opened up a funding gap between Scottish and English universities. That would have been fine if we were independent—it would be our business and up to us to get on with it. However, as a devolved nation, we do not have any other economic tools to help us deal with those sudden issues. We are left with our fixed budget. It is therefore right that, as long as we are part of the Union, we express our concerns about what might be considered English-only legislation.
If we reach a solution, I hope that there will be consultation with the Scottish Government to find out whether there are huge issues for Scotland, which we have to tackle as long as we are part of the Union. I was grateful to the hon. Lady for saying that financial aspects would be included in any future draft of such a Bill. It is imperative that they are included.
I believe that the job of us Scottish Members is to ensure that the Scottish interest is represented, and that nothing is done that would have a detrimental impact on our constituents. That is why we all voted on the issue of tuition fees, and I think that we were right to do so. However, there are other Bills that do not have the same impact on Scotland. We should leave them well alone, and I believe that we will continue to do so for as long as we consider them at Westminster.
I do not care who eventually makes the decision. I am quite happy for it to be the Speaker. The only issue that concerns me is the need for consultation with the Scottish Government. They must be able to say that they are comfortable and relaxed about the fact that legislation applies only to England. The House must recognise instances in which legislation will have knock-on effects on the Scottish Parliament. The tuition fees legislation in particular was disastrous for Scotland: we had to deal with a number of unforeseen consequences because of issues in England.
I welcome what has happened, and I congratulate the Government on eventually doing something about this problem. The hon. Lady has led them by the nose. I do not know whether it is the Liberal Democrats who have been blocking such action, but they are just about the worst offenders in this regard. Their number is massively inflated in relation to their share of the vote in Scotland, but they come down here and consistently vote on England-only issues. As well as having a quiet word with their one Scottish Member about voting on England-only issues, the Conservatives should have a quiet word with their coalition partners, because, as I have said, they are just about the worst offenders.
As we proceed, we should ensure that we consult and involve people who deserve respect because they have done the groundwork that was required for the establishment of our Parliament and Assemblies in Scotland. We are getting closer to Tam’s answer. I have presented my solution, and thankfully the Scottish people see it as a solution as well. For the first time in three years, support for independence in Scotland is now in the majority. We are approaching the point at which the Scottish people will have an opportunity to decide on the future of Scotland, and about whether we should come to this place at all. I believe that we are about to experience one of the most incredible defining moment in Scottish history, when they say yes and the hon. Members for Edinburgh North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz), for Dunfermline and West Fife, for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) and for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr Roy) will no longer come down here to vote on English issues. I cannot wait for that day to come.
It is always a pleasure to follow Pete Wishart, and I accept much of what he said. I do not often agree with the Scottish National party, but I agree with him that his party has a neat solution at least to the Scottish dimension of the West Lothian question, namely that Scotland should become separate from the rest of the United Kingdom.
I will not be tempted into a debate on the merits or otherwise of separation; suffice it to say that I completely oppose it. I am a proud Unionist, and I will do all that I can to prevent it from happening. However, the Union is under threat. That is why the Bill is so important, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin on presenting it. The Scottish nationalists secured an overall majority in the election in May, giving the lie somewhat to Labour’s assertion in the devolution debate that devolution had killed nationalism stone dead. In fact, nationalism is in rude health, and if we are not careful, we will be going down the road of separation.
Part of the problem lies not in Scotland, but in England. I have the advantage of being a Scot representing an English constituency, and a fair number of constituents complain to me about the fact that certain matters affecting only England can be determined by Members from Scotland. I am not suggesting that we have reached a crisis point, but bit by bit the resentment is growing. If we do nothing and let it lie unchecked, at some point in the future we will find ourselves in very difficult constitutional waters, and the Union will be threatened.
My hon. Friend demonstrates something. It is sometimes said by those in the House that only Conservative Members are concerned about the issue, but the reason they are concerned is that our constituents are concerned. We do get a significant number of letters about the matter. I do in relation to a range of issues, including tuition fees, and decisions that are made. If we do not deal with the matter, we will have a problem. My hon. Friend has made an important point.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. It is important that we address these points when we are in relatively calm waters. There is not an impending crisis, so we can take some time to consider the matter carefully. I welcome the announcement yesterday of the commission. I await with interest the answers to the pertinent questions that my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire asked about the composition, remit and time scale of that commission. It is right that it should take its time and examine carefully the complex issues that it will deal with, but I sound a slight warning note: that should not be an excuse to kick the issue into the long grass and so far into the future that it never reaches a conclusion. I would like to see a specific timetable showing when the commission will report and we can take matters forward because, as I say, doing nothing will stoke up big problems.
We have heard from several Labour Members their objections to the Bill and to other possible solutions to the West Lothian question, but we hear absolutely nothing about what their solution would be.
I am very clear. I hope that what comes out of this is some proposal to put to the people. It is bizarre that the one proposal that has not been mentioned is to ask the people what they think. We should put in a referendum a proposal to them about how to resolve the issue. It has to be through some assembly, so that we do not deal through the back door with all the issues that I and Harriett Baldwin have been raising with the Minister.
I am suggesting that there be a constitutional convention, as there was in Scotland, at the end of which a proposal is put to the people of England about the legislative system that they want.
It is an intriguing suggestion and I invite the hon. Gentleman to submit that idea to the commission. I am not sure whether he speaks for the
Labour Front-Bench team on that proposal. Perhaps a promotion is in order, but my key point is that doing nothing is not an option and we have to address the issue. I agree that we should not create a separate class of Member in the House and start banning certain Members from debating or voting on specific measures. Whether a self-denying ordinance could apply is for individual Members to decide, but there is a workable solution, which I alluded to earlier. I call it a double majority, where we do not exclude any Member from voting on a particular measure, but where, if a measure applies only to one territorial part of the UK, it has to secure the support of a majority of Members from that area as well as of the House as a whole. That is a matter that should be explored further.
I will not speak any longer because I want to see the debate come to a timely conclusion, but I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire again. She has moved the debate forward substantially and I look forward to the Minister's comments in response to her questions.
I am delighted to be able to follow Iain Stewart, who has made some important points. If I did not do so earlier, I certainly add my congratulations to Harriett Baldwin on the way she has taken the Bill forward and tried to engage in debate on the issue. I do not for one minute underestimate or diminish the danger to the Union that could be posed by a feeling in England that the present arrangements, whereby MPs outside England can vote on these issues, are unfair to English constituents. I accept that that could undermine the strength of the Union, which I certainly would not want. However, I put it to the hon. Lady, the hon. Gentleman and other Members on the Government Benches—those who are still present—that the Bill’s proposals are equally damaging to the Union and to better governance of this place. They are very dangerous, which is why I have concerns about the Bill.
The complexity of Bills is at the heart of some of the objections to the proposals. With respect, I say to Pete Wishart that that cannot just be laughed off as easily resolvable in most cases. Many pieces of legislation that appear to apply only to one part of the UK actually have implications for the rest of the UK. We have heard about high-speed rail and the health service, for example. Let us say a Bill to privatise the NHS in England were being debated in this place and the votes of Scottish MPs—even including Scottish National party MPs—were crucial. As such a Bill would clearly have possible consequences for Scotland at a future date, does the hon. Gentleman really think people would understand why we did not vote on it because it nominally applies only to England? We cannot simply write off such issues as easily addressable. Concern about Scottish MPs voting comes to a head in respect of controversial measures such as tuition fees, but such concerns do not merely arise rarely, because there are many Bills that have implications across the UK even though they only affect one part of it in direct legislative terms.
The Bill addresses certifying whether or not a Bill applies to England only. If that were all that this issue involved, it might not be so objectionable. However, the issue is not just certification; it is also voting on Bills. Do Mr Leigh and his like-minded colleagues who contributed to the debate really think that simply certifying a Bill as only applying to England but then having MPs from outside England voting on it would satisfy their constituents who have raised this issue? Their objection is not just to certification; it is also about those who vote on such Bills. I do not think this Bill will meet the concerns of those who feel they are being given an unfair deal by the post-devolution constitutional arrangements.
I therefore think the Bill would be the first stage on a short road to real pressure being applied on certain MPs not to vote on issues that only affected England. As the SNP is unlikely to form part of a coalition Government here in Westminster—although one never knows, as stranger things have happened—that might not be a problem for its Members.
My hon. Friend is touching on an important point about the SNP position. In his contribution, Pete Wishart suggested he would never dream of voting on English-only legislation. I had a slightly different recollection of his party’s position, however, and interestingly a check of the record reveals that on
That proves a point.
If MPs representing constituencies outside England were barred from voting on issues affecting only England—the same position would, I assume, apply in respect of other parts of the UK as well—there might, effectively, be two Governments at Westminster. When I said that might be the case, some Government Members clearly thought I was painting an extreme picture, but the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South has more or less accepted the point. His position is that the consequence of the road down which this Bill wants to go is that a measure that applies to English-only areas could pass only if it had majority support not only from the House as a whole but among MPs in England.
In effect, that would mean that for government within England we would on many occasions end up with some kind of quasi-coalition. If a Government did not have a majority of MPs in England, they could not get their programme through. They would either have to have no programme at all or would have to depend on other parties to get a majority. That might require a new form of coalition Government—I am quite in favour of coalition-type approaches, proportional representation and the rest of it, much to the chagrin of some of my hon. Friends, but it certainly is a new road to be going down. That seems to me to be the obvious logical consequence of the position put forward by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South.
Alternatively, if the UK Government party had a majority of seats in the UK but not in England and another had a majority of seats in England, the other party would be able to get its programme through for
England on the “devolved issues” that apply to parts of the UK and we would therefore effectively have two Governments. That possibility is not that far-fetched—it is quite easy to see how different electoral arithmetic could have that result.
Any suggestion that that analysis is somehow far-fetched prompts an important question: let us say that we had a UK Labour Government who were against NHS privatisation—I am not trying to rehash earlier debates—and a Conservative Government in England who were in favour of some form of privatisation. If that Conservative party had a majority in England to force through its policies, would it not try to do so? Of course it would. It would try to represent what it thought were the best interests of the country. It is not at all inconceivable that we could end up effectively with two Governments in this House when it came to matters that applied only in England.
I just want to make an observation. I have heard the remarks from Government Members about the growing sense of anger among some constituents. How much anger does my hon. Friend think there would be among the constituents of a party that was nominally in government but was unable to get its Bills through even though the Secretary of State and Prime Minister were from that party? How angry would people be then?
They would be very angry, and would be entitled to be if they were supporters of a party that supported a UK-wide state and could not get its policies through.
The problem that not having Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish MPs voting on English-only matters raises is very real and I do not think that some Members have fully thought through its consequences. Once a Government with a majority in the House could not get through parts of their programme and if Opposition parties could get through parts of their programme, the consequences would go beyond the House of Commons and Parliament. The civil service and Departments would increasingly be put in a situation where civil servants would wonder who was in government if their Minister had executive authority over certain matters but could not guarantee getting policy through the House because Opposition parties could get theirs through. That would begin to cause some issues with how the Government’s systems operate.
Some might say that what I am saying is far-fetched, but once we go along this road the consequences can develop more quickly than some might think. That is why the proposals that are being put forward for effectively English votes only for English MPs have difficulties and dangers. They could cause the type of division, anger and animosity that would cause further tensions in the Union, which I want to maintain. I have no objections to the commission being set up by the Government on this issue, although I suspect that finding the answers to the questions will not be so easy.
Pete Wishart mentioned Tam Dalyell, and of course his point in raising the West Lothian question was that he objected to devolution per se. He thought the alternatives were either a full-scale Union or the hon. Gentleman’s preferred solution. That shows how hard it is to answer this question.
We must ask whether the West Lothian question—as the Minister has pointed out, we should not call it that—is such a fundamental question that it must be addressed. If it must be addressed, is this the right way of addressing it? I suspect that the concerns underlying this matter are not really about voting but about money. There is a feeling of concern among some people in England that the financial arrangements between Scotland and the rest of the UK are somehow an unfair deal. There has been a lot of debate about this issue in the House and there is plenty of evidence that that is not the case—Scotland gets more in some respects, but then some parts of England get above the average while other parts of England get below the average. There are also all the issues about oil resources, taxation and so on to consider. Once we get into all that I suspect that the reality is that Scotland is not “subsidised” in the way that people suggest. A bit more transparency may address some of those issues, so that is something to welcome in the work that Treasury Ministers are doing. If spending, which I suspect is the real issue rather than voting, could be addressed, that would resolve some of the concerns.
On the voting issue, I wonder whether the problem is really so great that it requires this solution. The Union has never been a perfect, symmetrical arrangement. From 1603, and the Union of the Crowns, and from 1707 with the treaty of Union there have been lots of anomalies, which have come about primarily because there is one big member—England—and smaller members in the Union. People have tried to get perfect symmetry over the years but have not been able to achieve that. Do we really need that perfect symmetry if the cost is to be disruption of the kind that these measures would cause to the way that this place operates and to the government of the UK? If the issue is really so great that it requires a solution that is going to address it completely, the only answer will be something like an English Parliament or Assembly with devolution to England of those issues that are currently devolved to Scotland, Wales and so on. I suspect however that that would not solve many of the concerns of those hon. Members who want to address this issue. If the West Lothian question has to be answered, that is probably the only way. I certainly am not convinced that it can be met.
I am not closing my mind to any of the suggestions that might come from the commission that the Minister is going to set up, but I heartily endorse the view of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire that it should not be just an internal, Westminster parliamentary commission but that it should draw on expertise from all the devolved regions of the UK. It should draw on academic and political expertise. I accept that it should not be something that goes on for years and years, eventually disappearing into the long grass, but it needs to be done comprehensively and in the round. This issue may seem relatively minor in terms of how it can be addressed in parliamentary terms, but once we go down this road there is a real risk that we will undermine the fundamental nature of the House and the way that we govern, thereby causing further tension between different parts of the Union, which is the last thing that any of us who want to keep the Union alive want to happen.
It is a pleasure to follow Mark Lazarowicz. I am glad that in his opening remarks he recognised the danger of allowing the current situation, in which English constituents feel that the constitutional settlement is unfair to England, to continue.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin on piloting the Bill through the legislative minefield of Report and Third Reading today. Being drawn as high as seventh in the private Member’s Bill ballot gave her a flying start, and she has taken every advantage of her good fortune. In highlighting the gross unfairness that is encapsulated in what we all refer to as the West Lothian question, as it has been referred to for many years, she is doing a great service not only to her constituents but to constituents throughout the country.
Like Pete Wishart, I was not here for the Bill’s Second Reading, so that Division was unfortunately one of the few in which I have been unable to take part. In fact, that Division shows the importance of attending and voting, because the Bill passed by only two votes on Second Reading. Had I been here and voted, that majority would have increased by 50%.
The sense of unfairness about the fact that Members of Parliament from, for example, Scotland can vote on legislation that affects my constituents but does not affect their own is keenly felt by many of my constituents. During the general election and the years that I was campaigning in Bury North leading up to it, that issue was brought up on the doorstep many times. It is all the more puzzling, therefore, that some 15 months after the general election we are hardly any closer to resolving the problem. The Bill might not solve the problem in its entirety, but it is a step in the right direction.
Although I appreciate that the West Lothian question is not entirely simple or straightforward, I am sure that many of my constituents will find it difficult to understand why so little progress has been made towards resolving a matter that has been on everyone’s mind for decades. It might well be a difficult problem, but is it really so difficult that it should take 15 months simply to prepare and issue a one-page statement which tells us no more than we knew before yesterday—that the Government intend to establish a commission to consider the West Lothian question? We still do not know the commission’s membership or terms of reference. Many will rightly wonder, as I do, why these matters could not have been under consideration for the past 15 months and dealt with before now. I suspect that they would have been, had we had a purely Conservative Government.
The Bill may not be the complete solution to the West Lothian question, but it is a step in the right direction. I am happy to support the Bill’s progress today, and should it pass on Third Reading today, as I genuinely trust that it will, I wish it well in the other place.
We have had a very long debate, but the issue is terribly simple. I agree with virtually everything that Pete Wishart has said—apart, of course, from the end game of what he is trying to achieve. The rest made sense. The issue is actually extremely simple, as becomes clear if we look at both the Bill before us—which is what we are supposed to do anyway on Third Reading—and our Standing Orders.
The Bill, actually, does not pose innumerable political problems for either side of the House. All it says, under the heading “Duties of the Secretary of State”, is:
“The Secretary of State must, when publishing draft legislation, ensure that the legal and financial effect of that legislation on each part of the United Kingdom is separately and clearly identified.”
It is as simple as that. It does not actually address the substance of the West Lothian question, but something that can address the substance of the West Lothian question is already in our Standing Orders.
It is so simply put in Standing Order 97(1):
“After any public bill has been first printed, the Speaker shall, if of the opinion that its provisions relate exclusively to Scotland, give a certificate to that effect”.
The House within five minutes next Tuesday afternoon, if it wished, could simply pass a motion to amend its own Standing Orders so that they read, “After any public bill has been first printed, the Speaker shall, if of the opinion that its provisions relate exclusively to Scotland or England, give a certificate to that effect”.
Thomas Docherty has said—some of the points that he made were quite good—that there might be great political consequences. There would not, because as my hon. Friend Oliver Heald has said,
“On the order being read for the second reading of a bill so certified, a motion may be made by a Minister”.
To respond to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, if there was doubt about whether the tuition fees Bill related exclusively to England—on the face of it, one might think that it would relate exclusively to England, given that it concerns education—because of a possible knock-on financial effect for Scotland, there could be communication through the usual channels. Despite the Speaker’s certificate sending the Bill to Grand Committee—the English Grand Committee in this case—I am sure that we could accommodate the SNP, because our Standing Orders are sensible and, as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire has said, we have to live together in this place. In such circumstances, we could say that the tuition fees Bill should not be given to the English Grand Committee and that it should not be considered exclusively by English Members. There is therefore a neat and elegant solution to the problem.
Despite four decades of debate about the West Lothian question, we could move in a slow and traditional way—in a Fabian way, if I may say so; not a revolutionary way—to solve the problem. We could simply amend our Standing Orders and develop a procedure, bit by bit, through which exclusively English legislation would be referred to an English Grand Committee, so that only English Members would vote.
If that approach was such a problem, why, during the time we have had
To return to the point made by my hon. Friend Mr Nuttall, if the Government wanted to act, they would not need a commission. We would not need even the Bill, because all it does is say that the Secretary of State will express an opinion about how legislation will affect particular parts of the United Kingdom. The Bill is completely harmless, because it ties neither the House nor any Minister.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not a Fabian—I probably never will be a Fabian—but the difference between
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, because that point was the one grain of truth in his speech. It increasingly worries me, because I wonder whether we are wrongly politicising the problem. We all know that the Bill, like all private Members’ Bills, is fundamentally a campaigning Bill. We acknowledge our debt to my hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin, because she has achieved a huge amount through her campaign by actually getting a commission set up, even though it is entirely unnecessary.
I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife. If I thought that the Bill, as enacted, would tie the hands of the House and politicise the process in such a way that a Conservative Education Secretary could determine that a Bill was exclusively English and therefore stop any Scottish Member from voting on it, I would have my doubts. However, while my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire may tell me that her Bill is more ambitious than I believe, I can read only what it states:
“The Secretary of State must, when publishing draft legislation, ensure that the legal and financial effect of that legislation on each part of the United Kingdom is separately and clearly identified.”
The Bill does not say that the Secretary of State will decide whether a Bill is exclusively English; all that will happen is that there will be more knowledge. The Speaker would make his determination, but even after that, if my proposal were accepted, the Minister, in consultation with the other parties, could decide that a Bill—relating, say, to tuition fees—should be discussed on the Floor of the House. There is absolutely no problem or difficulty about it.
Hundreds of thousands of words have been talked about the West Lothian question—about how it will divide us, and about how there would be two classes of Member and all the rest of it. That is complete nonsense; we have always had several classes of Member. There have always been Ministers and Back Benchers. There has always been the Scottish Grand Committee, and nobody has said that it would lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. The Speaker issuing a certificate to say that a Bill is exclusively about English education will not break up the United Kingdom. It is so simple; why do the Government not do it?
I do not think that the Bill that put into effect the poll tax in Scotland went to the Scottish Grand Committee, but the hon. Gentleman was here then, and I was not, and I may be wrong in my understanding. For lots of entirely non-controversial Bills, an English Grand Committee would not be a problem, but when it comes to controversial Bills, a difficulty might arise, in that Bills might have a majority in England but not be able to carry a majority in the House. That would raise the issue of a Government not being able to operate in a coherent way unless they had a majority in England, as well as in the UK as a whole.
Between 1992 and 1997—and following the 1983 and even 1979 elections, when there were large Conservative majorities but a decreasing number of Scottish Tory MPs—I remember that there were huge debates about the poll tax and the rest of it, but I do not remember that there was any specific argument about the provisions of
I suggest that there is a simple, clear, elegant solution. The Government may, by all means, set up the commission if they want to, but they have to get on with the issue now. They have to make some progress. My solution is there; they should get on with it. Although I have talked in House of Commons terms about Standing Orders and all the rest of it, which sounds fairly esoteric, there is a huge political issue, which the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire has identified. It is that we have to make some concession to the English public, who are rightly outraged that so many issues that exclusively concern England are voted on by Scottish Members of Parliament, although those measures will not affect them.
I say to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my right hon. Friend David Mundell, who represents the Conservative constituency in Scotland, that he should not vote on English business, any more than I should vote on Scottish education. Indeed, I cannot vote on Scottish education. He should have a self-denying ordinance. I very much hope that when the Minister speaks, he will intimate that he will get on and solve the problem. He is the only one who can solve it, and he can do so within our Standing Orders.
If I may, I shall deal first with the questions from my hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin about yesterday’s written ministerial statement on the West Lothian question. That may be helpful to the House, because that is what quite a lot of the debate has focused on, and then I shall talk about her Bill.
On timing, my hon. Friend Iain Stewart has referred to the importance of dealing with the issue at a time when it is not a live political issue and when we are not in a crisis. He is consistent, because he made the same point in February on Second Reading. I responded by making it clear—I hope that this will reassure my hon. Friends the Members for West Worcestershire and for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh)—that the Government accepted that the issue needed to be dealt with in this Parliament. It is important to deal with it before it gives rise to a constitutional crisis—in fact, that would be a very bad idea. I said that it would be
“better to deal with the question…in an atmosphere of relative calm rather than to solve it hurriedly in an atmosphere of crisis.”—[Hansard, 11 February 2011; Vol. 523, c. 638.]
I said that hon. Members, particularly those of a Unionist inclination, would agree that it would be better to deal with the matter when we can look at it calmly and reflectively rather than when we are being pressed to do so in a rush. I said so then, and I repeat it in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South. I hope that that reassures colleagues that the Government intend to deal with the matter and not to kick it into the long grass, as some have feared.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire had a number of questions, which she set out very carefully, about the commission, including the timing of the announcement. We made it clear in the statement yesterday that we will undertake a short consultation with Mr Speaker and other parliamentary authorities on how the commission can best address procedural matters in the House. We want to make sure that it can come up with a solution—or a range of solutions—that is workable and practical, which we could then debate and put into effect. There is no point in introducing solutions that simply would not work.
I said in the statement that I expected after that short consultation that we would introduce formal proposals on the membership of the commission and its terms of reference in the weeks—note the plural—after the House returns in October. My hon. Friend said that we had previously indicated that we would make those announcements this year, so Members can work out very quickly that it will be between the return of the House on
My hon. Friend wants to know what the out date would be. I am afraid that on that one I am going to have to disappoint her, but I hope that I illustrated in my response to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South that we intend to deal with this and make sure that we do. I do not think that it is quite as speedy to deal with as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough has suggested, because there are consequences to the different solutions. For example, it may be the case that Bills cannot be certified as England-only because there is a varying devolution settlement across the United Kingdom. They may not apply in Scotland, because the Scottish Parliament has the relevant powers, but they may cover England and Wales and, indeed, Northern Ireland. They may not be England-only Bills—they may have different effects across the United Kingdom. It may not be possible to have a complete read-across from
That highlights the complexity of the issue. It is one reason why, as I have said, the Bill does not provide the solution, as it applies only to draft legislation. As the hon. Gentleman said in a previous debate, legislation can change significantly between its draft stage and its introduction. Indeed, sometimes that is the point of introducing draft legislation and consulting on it, as we want to listen to what people have to say. A legislative solution is not satisfactory to deal with the problem, because it would open up procedures in the House to the courts, which is something that I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House do not want to do. The commission would need to examine that legislative process.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire alluded to the question whether there was a difference between the coalition partners. I can assure her that although the two coalition parties come at the issue from different angles—the Liberal Democrats have always preferred a federal solution—the policy being set out is in the coalition agreement, the statement that I issued is the collectively agreed position of the Government, and there is no difference of opinion on the issue. The parties want to make progress and move forward.
To be clear, I think the agreement between the Minister's party and his absent friends is simply on the commission. I do not think they have any agreement on the solution, if I am right in my understanding.
The hon. Gentleman is right, but we want to solve the problem and we want to make sure the solution is workable. He may want to come back, but let me deal with some of the other aspects that I set out yesterday.
On the membership of the commission and the scope, we set out yesterday what it would and would not cover. Typically when the issue has been discussed, the West Lothian question has fallen into three components. One has been the representation of the different nations in the House. Another has been money—Mark Lazarowicz touched on that—and the third has been the processes of the House.
On the representation of the different parts of the United Kingdom, we have dealt with that in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, so every part of the United Kingdom will be equally represented in the House. On the money side, I think my hon. Friend mentioned that we would not be dealing with that. We have made it clear that there may be issues that need to be dealt with in relation to the Barnett formula, but the time to tackle those is when the deficit has been dealt with, not now. We have made it clear that the commission will not deal with those financial matters. They are significant and raise a range of questions, but the commission—much to the relief, I am sure, of those whom we will ask to serve on it—will not be tasked with that responsibility.
I heard clearly the views that Pete Wishart set out about some of the questions that the commission might need to consider. I welcome any thoughts that other Members may have about the scope of the terms of reference. The hon. Gentleman identified an important one—the interaction and the agreement between Parliament and the devolved legislatures about whether the particular areas fall within the devolution settlements and if they do, whether those devolved legislatures are content for us to legislate here. I have noted that and will bear it in mind.
The commission will be set up by the Government, so the terms of reference will be set by Ministers. My hon. Friend Oliver Heald made the point that the House operates in a consensual way and we do not want Standing Orders to turn into a battleground. We have said that there will be a full opportunity for the political parties represented in the House to have their say following the completion of the commission’s work. Clearly, that will have to take place anyway, because if we were going to legislate or change Standing Orders, there would have to be a debate and a vote in the House, but we want to make sure that when the commission has set out some workable solutions, we talk to parties in the House to move as far as is possible in a sensible way forward.
I fully appreciate that my hon. Friend wants to consult the House authorities on how best to frame the commission and the way in which it works, but can he guarantee that the Clerks of the House and the experts we have here will be able to have an input to the work of the commission, so that their expertise is fully taken into account by its members?
My hon. Friend puts his finger on exactly the point on which we wish to consult Mr Speaker and the parliamentary authorities. We want to make sure that the deliberations of the commission are informed by the way the House works, and that when it proposes possible solutions, they are workable and practical and will not have unforeseen consequences. We need to think through the consequences and have a properly informed debate so that Members know what they are supporting when we bring forward those solutions. That is exactly why we will have a short process of consultation with Mr Speaker.
I return briefly to the short exchange yesterday when Chris Bryant raised his point of order and you, Madam Deputy Speaker, were in the Chair. I returned to the Chamber but had not heard all of the point of order. I said that I would read it, as I have, and would respond to it. As I said in response to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, the Government will listen to Members’ thoughts about what should be encompassed within the terms of reference. Nevertheless, it is a commission that the Government are setting up to fulfil their own coalition agreement. I listened to what he said, though, and I am happy to listen to what other Members have to say. I hope that the hon. Member for Rhondda, who I am disappointed is not here to take part in this debate—
I see that other Members share that view. I hope that he will look at
Hansard and feel that I have responded to and dealt with his point of order, although strictly speaking it was not a point of order—that was your ruling yesterday, Madam Deputy Speaker. None the less, I hope that he will feel that I have answered it properly. On those points, I also hope that I have satisfied my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire.
My hon. Friend asked how the commission’s recommendations will be enacted. To some extent, that will depend on its recommendations. Clearly, if it recommends a solution with a legislative basis, there will need to be a Bill and it would have to be dealt with in the usual way within government. However, it is entirely possible—perhaps even likely, given what I have said about the Bill—that because it relates to how the House operates, the solution would be a matter for the House and Standing Orders. That would clearly need a different set of solutions. However, given what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South, I hope that I have made it clear that the Government want to solve this problem. The commission is the mechanism for laying out some workable solutions, and I hope that she will find that of comfort.
Thomas Docherty talked about the 1990s and the process of devolution, and he said that it was not yet complete. One of the problems is that this was not thought through properly. The Labour Government thought through some parts of it, but did not think about how England would be governed in this devolved era. They did that partly because it was a difficult question and partly, I suspect, because some of their interests were different. The fact is, however, that devolution, which we support, has had consequences, and we just need to work through them and deal with them sensibly. Of course, I do not need to answer his other point, because my hon. Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire has adequately demonstrated to the House that our right hon. Friend the noble Lord Strathclyde is, indeed, Scottish and resides in Scotland. He defended him so well that I need not trouble the House on that point any further.
I have dealt with the points raised by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire. I want to deal with two points made by Mark Lazarowicz. He is right that this is a complex matter, but I think that he confused or muddled up government and legislation. The Government cannot always assume that they will get their legislation through. They might well have a pretty decent chance of getting it through this House, although some of the legislation that I have been involved in has required a fair bit of persuasive work with my colleagues in the Conservative party, not just with Opposition members—
I hear agreement on that. In the other place, however, where the Government do not have a majority, it is not a foregone conclusion, and Ministers have to undertake a process of persuasion and consultation, and often have to make concessions. Even Governments with a majority in this place cannot take legislating for granted. Furthermore, aside from legislative issues, Ministers have many powers and executive responsibilities that do not involve legislation. I think that he was guilty of confusing those issues.
Of course I accept that the Government can never guarantee the passage of legislation through either House. Surely he must accept, though, that there could at least be potential difficulties if a Government with a majority in the House could not rely on a majority on a wide range of issues falling under this English-only provision. At the very least that has to be considered seriously by his commission.
I accept that there is a problem; I just thought that the hon. Gentleman overstated it. There is an issue, though, and it is important that we look at how the House operates. We had a debate about different classes of MPs, and about a recognition of the Government and the Opposition. Clearly, if some of his concerns came to pass, we would need to consider whether they affected how the House operated, which is exactly why we need to ensure, as we said in the written statement, that the commission comprises people with constitutional, legal and parliamentary expertise—so that we think those consequences through.
I am most grateful for the advice that the Minister is so generously giving, but can he say a little more about the relationship between the commission that he is establishing and the debate about reforming the other place—in particular about how one defines a peer, which I mentioned in my speech, and how that would work between the upper House and the commission?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asks that. Clearly peers are not elected at the moment, so in no recognisable sense do they come from different parts of the United Kingdom. As we take our reform proposals forward, this issue clearly has the potential to pop up in the other place. If we come up with a sensible, workable solution in this House, it could simply be adopted for the way a reformed second Chamber works, when we are—as I hope we will be—successful in making progress on our reform proposals.
I am most grateful for the straight face with which the Minister said that last sentence, but given that 20% will still be appointed and that those appointed are intended to reflect the UK balance of the House, how would the Government reconcile a UK-balanced upper House with an English-balanced lower House?
I will give the hon. Gentleman a brief answer, because I fear that if I give too wide an answer, Madam Deputy Speaker will tell me off for straying into House of Lords reform. I am surprised that he made that remark about a straight face because it is his party’s policy to have an elected House of Lords. That was what those on his Front Bench in this House have said. We all have Back Benchers with different views, but that is his party’s policy, so I will hope that he will support it as we make progress. Members appointed in the other place when it is reformed will not be party appointees; they will be independent Members from a party perspective. I am therefore not sure whether their geographical origins, about which the hon. Gentleman has expressed concerns, are necessarily that important. Those Members will not represent geographical parts of the United Kingdom, so the West Lothian question does not really apply.
Let us take an individual who, for argument’s sake, comes from Scotland, lives in Scotland, has a broad Scottish background and has no interests in England, but who is appointed to the upper House. Would that not simply exacerbate the West Lothian question?
It may do, but those are questions that can be dealt with when we debate House of Lords reform. We can deal with the West Lothian question as it pertains to this elected House now; I am sure that those other questions will provide yet another exciting avenue of debate later. Indeed, I suspect—and fear—that some in the other place may have noted the hon. Gentleman's concerns and may, even as we speak, be formulating concerns that they have not had before and that we shall have to address.
Let me turn to the Bill. As I said when we debated the amendments, in drafting her Bill my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire sensibly stuck to draft legislation, so that—as she and I have discussed before—she was in no danger of opening up the internal processes of this House and how we legislate to the courts. That was the right thing to do. However, in a sense, that has meant that her Bill, although an excellent vehicle for debate and exploring the issues—something that all Members have found useful—does not really present a solution. Indeed, the Bill does not even present a partial solution, because it cannot be the solution for actual legislation. For those of us who represent seats in England, our constituents are not really concerned about draft legislation; they are concerned about actual legislation and actual spending. Her Bill and the approach that it takes cannot apply to actual legislation because it is legislative in nature.
Apart from that, as I said when we discussed the amendments, the Government already set out clearly the territorial extent of provisions in actual legislation. Indeed, I gave the House some examples on Report of the different ways in which that is explained in various Bills. That is already done, and in a way, that is not the difficult part of the process. Rather, the difficult part is what follows from saying that Bills apply to different parts of the UK. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire made it clear that, because of his party’s approach, it has had no trouble in identifying legislation that affects different parts of the UK or in making decisions about how to vote. I do not think that that is the difficult part. I think also that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough shares that view. The Bill does not move us further forward in that regard. It merely adds legislative bureaucracy and some uncertainty, and, certainly from a Conservative perspective, we do not want to legislate when it is not necessary to do so. Passing legislation that takes us no further forward is not appropriate.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire referred to the democracy taskforce, a Conservative thing that was chaired by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, now the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary. As she said, the taskforce did not think that a full version of English votes for English laws would be desirable. It also looked at a modified version that would allow English Members into the Committee and Report stages of English-only legislation, while allowing the whole House to vote on the rest. It decided that there was no perfect, neat, tidy, no-loose-ends solution to the problem, and that the answer lay in making some improvements and moving forward. Looking into that approach in more detail will be a task for the commission.
I think that we have made some progress. I hope that I have been able to convince my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire that the wait for the membership and terms of reference of the commission will not be a long one, and that the Government are committed to resolving the problem and not leaving it to fester until it becomes a crisis. Her Bill had to be very narrow because of the difficulty of legislating in this area, and it is not the right one. I therefore urge her to withdraw it at this time, and I look forward to her engaging thoroughly with the commission and putting forward her views to it.
I would just caution Members on the matter of Mr Speaker certifying Bills, as this is an area in which we would do well to think through the complexities. Certifying Bills is not an uncontroversial matter. I think that one or two Members might have been a little blasé about it. There has already been some debate in the other place when Mr Speaker has certified Bills as money Bills under the terms of the Parliament Act. I remember, when I was taking the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill through, the remarks made in the other place by the former Speakers, Baroness Boothroyd and Lord Martin. They were unhappy about the proposals for the role of the Speaker in certifying motions of no confidence, saying that that could draw the Chair into areas of controversy.
We need to ensure that the things that the Speaker takes into account in making such determinations will not draw the Chair into party political controversy. That might not be as simple to achieve as colleagues think. On uncontroversial Bills that are not a matter of huge debate between the parties, the Speaker will be able to make those determinations without attracting any criticism. When highly charged matters that could have significant political consequences are involved, however, we would need to consider whether getting the Speaker to make such decisions could endanger the impartiality of the Chair and risk drawing him into political controversy.
My hon. Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire made a point about the flexibility that is built into
It would have been relatively straightforward to rush into establishing a commission, but it might have produced answers that were incapable of being delivered or on which there was no agreement. The process that we have undertaken, in a more thoughtful way, will mean that we have a commission that will be able to deal with the issue and put forward solutions on which there will be a considerable amount of agreement. I urge my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire not to proceed any further with her Bill, but she can be confident that she has done the House and the country a service by instigating this debate, and perhaps also by holding the Government’s feet to the fire to ensure that we make sufficiently swift progress.
With the leave of the House, I would like to answer some of the Minister’s points and thank everyone who has spoken today, either in support of or against the Bill. A wide range of interesting points have been made. I agree with the Minister that my hon. Friend Mr Leigh was a little optimistic when he said that the matter could be sorted out by next Tuesday.
I welcome the fact that the Minister made it clear that he does not intend to kick the issue into the long grass. He also reassured us that the consultation that is under way on setting the terms of reference for the commission, its membership and who might chair it, will be short. He gave us a great deal of confidence that we would know who those people are by
However, we still need to discuss some of the points that I raised earlier. The Bill provides for all proposed legislation to include, on the face of the measures, the implications for the Barnett or any successor formula. In the discussion of the terms of reference of the commission, we want it to examine that. Although I agree that we do not want an enormous amount of bureaucracy expended on spelling out the financial implications, it would be helpful to the House, and potentially the Speaker, if the commission considered whether the proposal was helpful. I was therefore not reassured to hear that the House could not consider the financial implications until the deficit was tackled. As we heard earlier, Members will want to know the consequences for the Barnett or any successor formula.
We did not hear what sort of scrutiny the Chamber might be able to undertake if the commission recommends a change to Standing Orders. The Minister mentioned a range of solutions that the commission might devise, and the options will be the subject of continuing interest to hon. Members. Even if there were no legislative solution, I presume that the House would have to have an opportunity to discuss them.
I was not very specific about the way in which the House will deal with the matter because we do not know what the solutions will be. Clearly, there would be an opportunity, if it was appropriate, for the House to debate the conclusions. If there was a proposal to change Standing Orders, a motion to do that would be tabled, which the House would debate and vote on. To some extent, it depends on the commission’s recommendations. The danger of my being too specific is that the point of setting up the commission is for it to use its expertise to devise solutions. I do not want to prejudge the solutions. If I did that, there would not be much point in having a commission.
I thank the Minister for that clarification. It leads me to my final reaction to his statement. As he acknowledged, it is disappointing that the commission will not be given an out date. It would not have been impossible for us to hear today the Minister’s expectations of an out date. Is it likely to fall during the current parliamentary Session, or after the Queen’s Speech? I feel that it should be timely enough to enable Members to resolve this complex issue before the next general election looms.
Let me clarify what I said. I did not say that there would be no out date; I simply said that I had not reached a conclusion that I could share with my hon. Friend today. Obviously, when a commission is established it must be given some idea of when it is supposed to report, and, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South, we want to solve the problem before it has to be solved in a moment of crisis. Setting up the commission is not an attempt to kick the issue into the long grass. We want it to come up with workable solutions which the House can then debate and put into action.
I thank the Minister for his clarification, but I am not sure that I heard within it a specific timetable that he had in mind. I would expect an out date for the commission to be some time within the current Session. I would probably accept that it could potentially be as long as 12 months after its establishment, but I would consider even that to be quite a long time, given that it has taken us 16 months to get a written ministerial statement giving notice that it would be established.
I am torn here. The hon. Lady has made some valid points, and I too am baffled by what the commission is all about if it is not about kicking the issue into the long grass. However—now I am jumping to the Minister’s defence—this is a vastly complex issue, and trying to resolve it in the few months between Christmas and next summer might not do it due service.
That gives me increasing grounds for worry about how people might be able to use a commission that has been given no specific timetable or out date as a way of delaying and stalling for a considerable time.
On the issue of the timetable and the out date, if the Bill has done nothing else it has concentrated the Government’s mind on their own business. I therefore wish to test the will of the House.