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Business of the House

– in the House of Commons at 1:30 pm on 14th December 2011.

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Votes in this debate

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 1:30 pm, 14th December 2011

I beg to move,

That—

1. bills">Standing Order No. 80A (Carry-over of bills) shall be amended as follows—

(a) in line 7, after the word ‘motion’, insert the words ‘(other than a motion relating to a bill brought in upon a ways and means resolution)’, and

(b) in line 23, at end, insert the words ‘(other than a bill brought in upon a ways and means resolution)’; and

2. the following new Standing Order be made—

‘(1) The Speaker shall put any question necessary to dispose of proceedings on a carry-over motion of which a Minister of the Crown has given notice under Standing Order No. 80A (Carry-over of bills) relating to a bill brought in upon a ways and means resolution—

(a) forthwith if the motion is made on any day before the bill is read a second time, or on the day the bill is read a second time; or

(b) not more than one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion if the motion is made at any other time.

(2) The following paragraphs of this order shall apply to any bill ordered to be carried over to the next Session of Parliament in pursuance of a carry-over motion to which paragraph (1) applies.

(3) If proceedings in committee on the bill are begun but not completed before the end of the first Session, the chair shall report the bill to the House as so far amended and the bill and any evidence received by the committee shall be ordered to lie upon the Table.

(4) In any other case, proceedings on the bill shall be suspended at the conclusion of the Session in which the bill was first introduced.

(5) In the next Session of Parliament, a Minister of the Crown may, after notice, present a bill in the same terms as the bill reported to the House under paragraph (3) of this order or as it stood when proceedings were suspended under paragraph (4) of this order; the bill shall be read the first time without question put and shall be ordered to be printed; and paragraphs (6) to (13) shall apply to the bill.

(6) In respect of all proceedings on the bill, any resolution which the bill was brought in upon in the first Session shall be treated as if it were such a resolution of the House in the next Session and any reference in any resolution upon which the bill was brought in to a Bill or Act of the present Session shall be treated in the next Session as a reference to a Bill or Act of that Session.

(7) In respect of all proceedings on the bill, the bill shall be treated as a bill brought in upon ways and means resolutions.

(8) If the bill was read a second time in the first Session, it shall be read a second time without question put.

(9) If the bill was not set down for consideration at any time in the first Session, any committal order in respect of the bill shall apply to proceedings on the Bill in the next Session (subject to paragraphs (10) and (11)).

(10) If the bill was reported from a public bill committee under paragraph (3), it shall stand committed to a public bill committee in respect of those clauses and schedules which were committed to a public bill committee in the first Session and not ordered to stand part of the bill in that Session.

(11) If the bill was reported from a committee of the whole House under paragraph (3), it shall stand committed to a committee of the whole House in respect of those clauses and schedules which were committed to a committee of the whole House in the first Session and not ordered to stand part of the bill in that Session.

(12) If the bill was read a second time in the first Session and was not set down for consideration at any time in that Session, any order of the House giving leave for a committee on the bill to sit twice on the first day on which it meets in the first Session shall apply to the first day on which the committee meets in the next Session.

(13) If the bill was set down for consideration at any time in the first Session, the bill shall be set down as an order of the day for (as the case may be) consideration, further consideration or third reading.

(14) Notices of amendments, new clauses and new schedules given in respect of parts of the bill not disposed of in the first Session shall be reprinted as notices in respect of the bill as presented and proceeded with under paragraph (5).’.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

With this we will consider the following:

Motion 3—Third Reading (Bills Brought in upon a Ways and Means Resolution)

That Standing Order No. 77 (Third reading) be amended by adding at the end—

‘(2) The third reading of a bill brought in upon a ways and means resolution may be taken at the same sitting of the House as its consideration on report.’.

Motion 4—Sessionality (Supply)

That, notwithstanding the practice of the House as to the legislative authorisation of (a) appropriation of expenditure and (b) maximum numbers for defence services, legislative authorisation of appropriation of Votes on Account and maximum numbers for defence services may take place on a day not later than 5 August in the Session following that in which the founding resolutions for the forthcoming financial year were agreed to by the House.

Motion 5—Consideration of Estimates

That—

(1) Standing Order No. 54 (Consideration of estimates) shall apply for the remainder of this Session as if, for the word ‘Three’ in line 1, there were substituted the word ‘Five’;

(2) Standing Order No. 54 (Consideration of estimates) shall be amended in accordance with paragraphs (3) to (7) of this order;

(3) in line 1, leave out ‘before 5 August,’;

(4) in line 13, at end, insert ‘Provided that the foregoing provisions of this paragraph shall not apply on any day on which time has been allocated pursuant to paragraph (2)(b) of Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates).’;

(5) leave out lines 25 to 34 and insert—

‘Provided that on days on which time has been allocated pursuant to paragraph (2)(b) of Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates) or the Chairman of Ways and Means has set down opposed private business under paragraph (5) of Standing Order No. 20 (Time for taking private business), proceedings under this sub-paragraph shall not be entered upon until the business in question has been disposed of and may then be proceeded with for three hours, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 9 (Sittings of the House).’;

(6) in line 38, leave out ‘hour prescribed under paragraph (5)’ and insert ‘day and hour prescribed under paragraph (6)’;

(7) in line 40, leave out paragraph (5) and add—

‘(5) Any estimates on which questions have been deferred to another day in accordance with the provisions of paragraphs (4) and (6) of this order, together with any questions so deferred, and all other estimates appointed for consideration on any previous day or half day allotted under this order shall be set down for consideration on the day to which the questions have been deferred.

(6) On the day to which the provisions of paragraph (2) or (4) of Standing Order No. 55 (Questions on voting of estimates, &c.) apply which falls after or on any day or half-day allotted under this order, the Speaker shall, at the time prescribed in paragraph (1) of that order, put, successively, any questions deferred under paragraph (4) of this order on any previous day or half day allotted under this order, any questions deferred under paragraph (4) of this order on the day and any questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on all other estimates appointed for consideration on any day or half day allotted under this order.’;

(8) Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business) shall be amended, in line 41, by leaving out ‘(5)’ and inserting ‘(6)’; and

(9) Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall be amended, in line 23, by leaving out ‘(5)’ and inserting ‘(6)’.

Motion 6—Questions on Voting of Estimates, &c.

That Standing Order No. 55 (Questions on voting of estimates, &c.) shall—

(1) apply for the remainder of this Session with the following amendments—

(a) in line 1, leave out ‘paragraphs (2), (3) or (4)’ and insert ‘paragraph (2) or (4)’;

(b) in line 2, leave out ‘the Speaker shall at the moment of interruption’ and insert ‘, at the moment of interruption or as soon thereafter as proceedings under the proviso to paragraph (3)(b) of Standing Order No. 54 (Consideration of estimates) have been disposed of, the Speaker shall (after putting any questions required to be put under paragraph (6) of Standing Order No. 54)’;

(c) in line 9, leave out ‘6 February’ and insert ‘18 March’;

(d) in line 14, at end, insert—

‘(c) votes relating to numbers for defence services;

(d) excess votes, provided that the Committee of Public Accounts has reported that it sees no objection to the amounts and modifications to limits on appropriations in aid necessary being authorised by excess vote.’;

(e) in line 15, leave out paragraph (3); and

(f) in line 33, leave out ‘paragraphs (2), (3) or (4)’ and insert ‘paragraph (2) or (4)’.

(2) be amended with effect from the start of next Session as follows—

(a) in line 1, leave out ‘paragraphs (2), (3) or (4)’ and insert ‘paragraph (2) or (4)’;

(b) in line 2, leave out ‘the Speaker shall at the moment of interruption’ and insert ‘, at the moment of interruption or as soon thereafter as proceedings under the proviso to paragraph (3)(b) of Standing Order No. 54 (Consideration of estimates) have been disposed of, the Speaker shall (after putting any questions required to be put under paragraph (6) of Standing Order No. 54)’;

(c) in line 6, leave out the words ‘and limits on appropriations in aid,’;

(d) in line 9, leave out ‘6 February’ and insert ‘18 March’;

(e) in line 14, at end, insert—

‘(c) votes relating to numbers for defence services;

(d) excess votes, provided that the Committee of Public Accounts has reported that it sees no objection to the amounts necessary being authorised by excess vote.’;

(f) in line 15, leave out paragraph (3);

(g) in line 29, leave out ‘, and limits on appropriations in aid,’; and

(h) in line 33, leave out ‘paragraphs (2), (3) or (4)’ and insert ‘paragraph (2) or (4)’.

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

For the convenience of the House, it may be helpful if I say that it is not my intention later to move motion 7. There are two reasons for that: first, there is a deficiency in the printed version of the motion on the Order Paper; also, not moving it will allow further discussions with the Chair of the Liaison Committee and others on the consequences of the changes that we are proposing.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, National Policy Statements Sub-Committee

I welcome my hon. Friend’s willingness to use this unexpected interlude to ensure that, at the end of the day, Select Committees can be confident that they will have the opportunity to debate and report on the abolition of public bodies before such matters come to the Floor of the House or a Delegated Legislation Committee.

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, with whom I have been in correspondence on these matters. I am keen to ensure that we have a system that fits the needs of the House in dealing with such important issues.

The first motion and the other four motions that we are debating with it arise from three considerations. First, they arise from the need to adapt the House’s procedures to spring-to-spring Sessions. Secondly, they arise from the alignment project, which was initiated by the last Administration and has been taken forward by this Government. Thirdly, it is proposed to take this opportunity to undertake some minor tidying-up of the relevant Standing Orders. Some of the changes before the House are quite technical, not to say rather long. The House will be pleased to know that I do not intend to go through them individually; rather, I shall explain their purposes. The provisions are explained in detail in an explanatory memorandum that has been placed in the Vote Office.

On 13 September last year, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House announced the Government’s intention to move the usual date of Prorogation and state opening from November to the spring, to create a fixed-term Parliament of five equal, 12-month Sessions. That decision has some consequences for financial business. The first motion before us today would adapt the House’s existing procedures for carry-over to enable the Finance Bill to be carried over from one Session to the next. The House has already passed legislation, in last year’s Finance Bill, to ensure that resolutions under the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968 have continued legal effect from one Session to the next. The motion makes matching provision in the House’s procedures. My right hon. Friend consulted the Procedure Committee on the proposal in February. The Chair replied on 9 March indicating that the Committee was content with the proposal.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

May I say on behalf of the Procedure Committee that we are grateful that we were consulted on this matter? Is the Deputy Leader of the House aware that we concluded that if the Government wish to continue to have the Budget statement in March—I can understand why they would—then carry-over seems the simplest way of proceeding? We concluded, with cross-party agreement, that this would not lead to any loss of scrutiny.

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend on several levels: first, for the work that he and his Committee do on such matters; and secondly, for the nature of his response to the proposal that we are discussing. It is important that a Committee of the House has been able to consider whether any loss of scrutiny would be involved; it is also important for the House to ensure that no such loss would be involved. He and his colleagues have concluded just that, and I am pleased that they were able to do so on an all-party basis.

The first motion modifies the general provisions for carry-over in existing Standing Orders in two main ways. First, it allows carry-over without separate debate before Second Reading. The House will have already debated the substance of the provisions in question during the Budget debate, and there may be cases where prorogation falls before Second Reading. Secondly, the motion ensures that both the specific character of Bills brought in on Ways and Means resolutions and the practices of the House in considering such Bills are reflected in Standing Orders.

The second motion falls into the category of a tidying-up measure. Because it is seen as the practice of the House that there should be an interval between each stage of the Finance Bill, the House is asked to agree a motion for each such Bill, allowing Third Reading to take place on the same day as Report. Such motions to vary the so-called practice of the House have now been tabled for 100 years, since the chancellorship of David Lloyd George. The House has not failed to pass such a motion since 1972, and has not debated Third Reading on a day subsequent to Report since 1991. Even for the House, I submit that 100 years of settled practice is enough to overturn the presumption that the practice is otherwise.

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I think we may have reached a settled view by this stage. The second motion therefore changes Standing Orders to allow Third Reading to follow Report on the same day without a separate motion in each case.

The remaining motions relate to Supply, which some would say is one of the more obscure aspects of the House’s procedure. Indeed, Supply might be thought to be the House’s equivalent of the Schleswig-Holstein question. I am glad to say that there are at least a few more people who understand the business of Supply, and I believe they are alive and of sound mind—allegedly. I understand that among their number is Sir Stephen Laws, first parliamentary counsel—there is no question but that he is of sound mind—who is about to retire, and for whose services to successive Governments and, indirectly, to this House the Government are very grateful. The changes to be made are not easy to follow, and are explained in detail in the explanatory memorandum, so I will endeavour to describe what lies behind them.

The first factor is the move to spring-to-spring Sessions. The current practice of the House requires that once Supply has been provisionally authorised, an Appropriation Act following on from that provisional authorisation needs to be passed in the same Session. At present, the first stages of authorisation of the votes on account and the limits on numbers for defence services take place in early spring, with final authorisation incorporated in the Appropriation Act, passed in June or July. The retention of that timing makes sense but, given the move to spring-to-spring Sessions, it will involve final authorisation being given in the following Session. The third motion enables this common-sense practice to continue. We are also making provision for five estimates days during the current, extended Session, following discussion with the Liaison Committee. Indeed, this responds to a request from the Liaison Committee.

The second factor is the alignment project, which was an initiative of the last Administration, but which is bearing fruit in the new Parliament. The project’s aim is to achieve better alignment between Budgets, estimates and accounts, and to simplify and streamline the Government’s financial reporting documents, thereby improving Parliament’s ability to scrutinise planning and actual public expenditure. Select Committees were closely involved at various stages in the development of the proposals, which were endorsed by the House in the last Parliament through the passage of part 5 of what became the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 and, in the present Parliament, through the resolution approving the proposals for the project that was passed following a debate on 5 July 2010. During that debate, Mr Thomas, speaking for the Opposition, welcomed

“this further opportunity to confirm support for the sensible changes that the last Government created under the alignment project”.—[Hansard, 5 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 93.]

The changes are being implemented with effect from the estimates for the financial year 2011-12. As a result of the changes already endorsed by the House, the estimates documents requiring formal authorisation are to be published only during two periods each year—between January and February, and between April and May.

Implementation of the project means that there will be two rather than three estimates events during a normal-length Session. There will be no winter supplementary estimates and no December estimates day or votes on outstanding estimates at that time. The motions before us reflect the move to two estimates windows each Session, when estimates day debates will take place and outstanding estimates will be voted on.

As a result of these changes, there will be two estimates days close together, usually in the early spring. The fourth motion thus provides that votable motions on such days will be deferred until the House votes on all outstanding estimates, usually at the end of the second such day. This builds upon the existing practice whereby votes are deferred on estimates days until the moment of interruption.

I hope that that is sufficient to explain the thinking behind these proposals, and I commend the motions to the House.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Minister (Treasury) 1:41 pm, 14th December 2011

I am grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House for explaining the rationale for these motions, He did so with a certain degree of nonchalance, suggesting that they are quite technical. I am quite keen—I know many hon. Members are eager to speak in the debate—to keep an open mind and I am absolutely ready to be persuaded, but I have a number of concerns about the motions, especially about the first one, which deals with carry-over. It is true that the proposed changes are a downstream consequence of the shift to a fixed-term Parliament, with Sessions divided equally and running from May to May. As ever with this Government, however, we are left wondering whether they have properly thought through the consequences.

There are good reasons for the sessional divisions of the parliamentary calendar from year to year. Let us not be under any illusions: today’s proposals would massively expand carry-over provisions for legislation, potentially ending the convention whereby Bills should normally be introduced, considered and completed within the year in which Her Majesty outlines the Government’s plans in the Queen’s Speech. Carrying over a Bill should happen in special and infrequent circumstances. The previous Government introduced carry-over procedures to accommodate complex and technical legislation, largely where there was a cross-party consensus on the need for reform or where the addition of pre-legislative scrutiny or wider-ranging provisions necessitated a longer time frame for the Bill’s passage. Carry-over has been an exception rather than a rule. The House needs to recognise that, if the proposals proceed, standard legislation such as Finance Bills will routinely span the historical firewall that is in place to protect sessional business spilling over from one year to the next. Back-Bench Members will notice that carry-over is not possible for Back Bench-initiated legislation.

Ways and Means legislation has a set of histories that go back a long time. The motion would take carry-over provisions into quite different and possibly uncharted terrain. Finance Bills are particularly important legislation: they provide, of course, the means by which the public are taxed, businesses are forced to part with their money and resources are taken from consumers and workers to pay for the collective public services such as the defence of our country. This country was at the forefront of democratic innovation through which sovereignty passed from the monarchs to the people represented in this House of Commons. We should therefore reflect seriously on the rationale for the protections and safeguards that have accrued over the centuries to defend the rights of those being taxed. It is, after all, only the House of Commons that considers money Bills. Because these changes to the law do not gain scrutiny in the other place, we should be sure that we proceed with extra care in this place.

The Crown attends Parliament at the beginning of each Session and makes a specific request of Members of the House of Commons that

“estimates for the public services will be laid before you”.

This is the beginning of an age-old process built around the sessionality of supply, guaranteeing time for consideration of votes on account and ensuring that there is no taxation without representation. It might well be that the Government do not consider this cycle of proposal, consideration and approval important enough to retain the sessional disciplines. If so, I would have thought that they would have the courtesy to ensure proper and adequate consideration of the impact of these changes.

I am not sure that enough thought has been given to the consequences. There are some serious constitutional issues at stake. What on earth is the point of going forward with a sessional divide from year to year if the Crown is free to bunch together legislation across the years? The powers of Back Benchers are also an important issue. What powers do ordinary Members have over the timetabling of business if Ministers are not under pressure to conclude their business at the end of a Session and can merely table a motion and slip a whole Finance Bill forward? Oliver Heald, who I believe was shadow Leader of the House at the time, said that

“the lack of pressure could encourage even more sloppiness in the drafting, programming and timetabling of legislation.”—[Hansard, 26 October 2004; Vol. 425, c. 1325.]

This pressure is useful to Parliament, to the House of Commons and to Back Benchers—a pressure that can be used to force Governments to accede to amendments and to ensure that they go forward before the end of a Session is reached. Ministers are keen not to lose their Bills. We need to consider these issues carefully. I can, of course, see the logic of the Minister’s arguments; I am simply saying that I am not sure that we have given enough proper and deep consideration to some of the issues.

Sessional disciplines matter. The Treasury, as we know, has already provided some evidence of poor drafting and a number of deficiencies have been seen in its proposals. The new powers to elongate consideration of the Bill to suit the Treasury’s timetable rather than that of Parliament could well lead to a lackadaisical, slapdash approach to what should be an efficient focus on the clear conduct of business. Parliament should, after all, have a realistic and measured work load before it and a legislative programme designed to ensure that each Bill receives fair and equal scrutiny.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

If the hon. Gentleman is not happy with this way of proceeding, what does he suggest as an alternative? Is he suggesting that the Government should consider having a May or June Budget, which would have serious implications for the tax year?

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Minister (Treasury)

This is indeed a conundrum. We are misaligning the calendar of the House of Commons with the fiscal year. We have managed to cope historically, but I do not have an answer. I would have liked deeper consideration of the proposals in a form that could be properly debated, rather than to find ourselves confronted with these motions on the Order Paper. I genuinely understand the Government’s problems. I do not wish to be obstructive, but I think it important to take some time to review what are, after all, arrangements that have been in place for many hundreds of years.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

The shadow Minister is making a powerful speech. Is not one of the dangers—we hear it often—that the Government want to do something on the surface for very good reasons, but at the same time what happens strengthens the Executive and reduces the power of Parliament?

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Minister (Treasury)

The hon. Gentleman has hit on an important point. If we have a too relaxed approach to the parliamentary calendar, we could see a repeat of the situation whereby this House of Commons is especially busy for a couple of months, but is then twiddling its thumbs for several months longer—perhaps when the Government are struggling to get their business through the other place.

Mr Knight asked the right question: how should we proceed from here? I understand the arguments in favour of some of the proposed changes, but I wish that the Government had devoted more time and care to discussing the issues through the usual channels and allowing the problems that had been raised to be considered properly and thoughtfully.

It would be useful if the Minister answered some questions, because I remain to be persuaded. For instance, why should not consideration of a Finance Bill start a month or so later? I am not suggesting that that is necessarily the solution; I am merely speculating on what the consequences might be. We could still have a Budget in March, but proceedings on the Finance Bill proper could start immediately after the Queen’s Speech in May, at the beginning of the new Session. That might be preferable to a Committee stage taking place for a couple of weeks immediately after the March Budget, followed by an elongated break and then a return to the Committee stage about halfway through the clauses that had previously been under consideration. There is, of course, virtue in avoiding a disruptive period of down time in the middle of a Committee stage. I should like to know whether the Government and, indeed, the Procedure Committee have thought about that.

Will the Minister elaborate on the proposals in motion 2 on carry-over of Ways and Means legislation? He has not chosen simply to amend Standing Order No. 80A to remove the reference to Ways and Means. Instead, an attempt seems to have been made to copy and paste carry-over provisions in respect of other Bills into a new Standing Order relating specifically to Ways and Means and money Bills. As far as I can see, however, various elements have not been transposed: for example, Standing Order No. 80A (3), which provides for no more than one Bill to be subject to a carry-over motion, and (4), which prevents a carry-over motion to apply to a Bill carried over from a previous Session. There seems to be nothing technically in place to prevent a Finance Bill that has been carried over from one Session from being carried over again to another. I accept that such a development may be very unlikely, but I do not understand why it was not covered in the copy-and-paste exercise. It could be described as the Schleswig-Holstein question squared, and I should be grateful if the Minister could seek some inspiration in order to clarify the point.

I have heard the Minister argue about the move to the automatic Third Reading of Finance Bills on the same day as Report each year. He says that that it has been happening for 100 years—which, according to my hon. Friend Mr Wright, may mean that it is too early to tell whether it is working. Even if it is normal practice, the Government have at least had the courtesy to table a motion seeking the House’s permission, rather than assuming that Third Reading shall always take place on the same day as Report. However, I feel that the practice may erode the purpose of Third Readings as a distinct stage in the passage of legislation. It may be entirely pragmatic, but although I am willing to be persuaded otherwise, I do not think that consequences of some of these changes have been properly thought through.

Can the Minister explain the rationale for the omission of the backstop date applying to the three days allotted to the consideration of estimates? I understand that he is changing the date from 5 August following line-of-sight discussions after the passage of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011—that makes sense—but why not simply shift the date forward to February or March rather than omitting it altogether?

The Minister also said that he proposed to put back the “roll-up” day for the modification of estimates by only five or six weeks—to, I believe, 18 March—which strikes me as a fairly arbitrary choice. He also touched on the fact that we would lose one of those modification days, as the number would be reduced from three to two. It is a small point, but, again, I wonder whether it should have been considered in more detail.

I have total respect for the Procedure Committee and its Chairman, who engaged in informal discussions with the Leader of the House about the proposals and did not object to them, but—with the greatest respect—I wish that the proposals had been subjected to more adequate scrutiny, and to some form of challenge or review. There have been no public hearings or discussions, and no report has been provided to enable parliamentarians to digest and consider the proposals.

I believe that the changes require serious consideration, because they could have profound and unintended constitutional consequences. I have not yet been convinced by the Minister that we need to rush them through before the Christmas recess, although I shall wait to hear what he has to say. He has, in a statesmanlike way, withdrawn motion 7, and I wonder whether it would be wise for him also to seek to withdraw the carry-over proposals. Perhaps he could ask the Procedure Committee to consider the issues relating to those proposals in more detail, because, as yet, I am not fully persuaded that it would be responsible to support them.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee 1:56 pm, 14th December 2011

Chris Leslie referred to what he described as a “queue” of Members waiting to speak, and went on to express his concerns about the proposals. I think he is seeing shadows on the wall in both respects. It seems to me that if the Government were to abuse the process that they are asking us to approve—having put the matter to the Procedure Committee on the basis on which they have put it to the House today—Members in all parts of the House would seek to hold them to account. The Government have made clear that these are changes of process to accommodate occasions on which the House does not prorogue at the normal time, and I therefore think that the hon. Gentleman’s concerns are misplaced.

The Leader of the House initially wrote to the Procedure Committee on 8 February this year asking whether the Committee was content for the Government to develop proposals to set aside the principle of sessionality in respect of supply procedure, and to provide for the carry-over of Finance Bills from one session to the next. The Committee subsequently engaged in a detailed discussion about a number of issues relating to the proposed procedure, following which we decided that we were content with it and with the Government’s reasons for proposing it..

If the House prorogues in April or May, as the Government propose, proceedings on supply will be interrupted. At present the supply cycle begins with the provisional authorisation of expenditure in November, with legislative authorisation being given in the summer. The Votes on Account are presented in November, and the House is asked to approve 45% of Government spending to cover the period between the beginning of the next financial year in April and the passing of the Appropriation Act in the summer. The principle of sessionality meant that expenditure approved in the Votes on Account had to be appropriated before prorogation.

The problem could, of course, be overcome by means of an Appropriation Act passed in the spring, as happens before a general election, but that was not considered to be an ideal solution. It would mean that the main estimate each year would contain details of only 55% of Government expenditure, the remaining 45% having already been appropriated after the Votes on Account. A further disadvantage of that approach would be that the Votes on Account contain less detail than the main estimates, and 45% of the total of public expenditure would therefore be appropriated on the basis of less detailed spending plans. It might be considered unfortunate if, at the same time as the beginning of the alignment project, a separate change meant that the main estimate only ever included 55% of the expenditure for which parliamentary approval was needed. The Government instead propose that the resolutions on which the Appropriation Act is founded should not fall at the end of a Session but should be time-limited. The Procedure Committee, on a cross-party basis, thought this was quite a reasonable way to proceed.

With a Budget in March or April, the Finance Bill, brought in on resolutions following the Budget, will not have completed its passage before the House prorogues in April or May and will have to be carried over to the new Session. It is also necessary for the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968 to be amended, because under it, the Budget resolutions cease to have effect when the House prorogues.

The Finance Bill could be introduced in the new Session rather than being carried over, but would therefore not be published until May. Although a draft Finance Bill could be published following the Budget, with the Finance Bill itself being introduced in the new Session, the Government of the day would not thereby have the flexibility to introduce some proceedings on the Bill, such as Second Reading, before the House prorogued. The Procedure Committee therefore concluded that the Government’s proposals for the carry-over of the Finance Bill would not affect the opportunities available to Members to scrutinise the Bill and vote on its provisions, and there would be no impact on the length of the Committee stage, for example.

Given that the Government wish to make the Budget statement in March, it seemed to us—again, there was cross-party agreement—that the carry-over of the Finance Bill is probably the simplest solution to the problem of the House proroguing in the spring, and one that does not interfere with Members’ ability to scrutinise the Bill.

We therefore concluded that these proposals were modest and reasonable, and I hope the House will reach the same conclusion.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Labour, Dunfermline and West Fife 2:02 pm, 14th December 2011

I am grateful to be called in this—[ Interruption. ]

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Chair, Panel of Chairs, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I can assure those waiting to speak that the hon. Gentleman did give notice that he would be speaking, so if we can just hold our water. I will be coming to Sir Alan next.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Labour, Dunfermline and West Fife

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; I hope to keep my remarks relatively brief.

This short debate is obviously a consequence of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, which was recently passed, and is an example of why, rather than hastily charging through such legislation and fixing it in this piecemeal way after the event, it might have been more appropriate to work through all the consequences of that change. I hope the Deputy Leader of the House will reflect on what happens when proper pre-legislative scrutiny of such a major Act does not take place.

I have the greatest respect for the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, Mr Knight. I have the privilege of serving under his leadership—I joined the Committee in the summer—and he has been an excellent Chairman. I do not at all doubt the sincerity of his words today and his genuine conviction that due diligence has been shown on this important, if slightly technical issue, but I hope he will not mind if I show some dissent in that regard. When I asked the Clerk of our Committee on Monday whether it was possible to get copies of the transcript of the informal private hearing that the right hon. Gentleman convened in the spring, the Clerk made it clear that although I, as a member of the Committee, could see it, other Members of the House could not. With the greatest respect to the Chairman, that is an unsatisfactory basis on which to change the Standing Orders of this House. If not all Members of this House are able to read the deliberations of the august Procedure Committee, how can our colleagues simply take our word for it?

I do not object in principle to what the Government are suggesting. Like many Government initiatives, it appears on the surface to be a reasonable suggestion. However, as we have discovered repeatedly over the past 18 months.

Photo of David Hamilton David Hamilton Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

Why does my hon. Friend think that the document has not been put into print, so that the rest of us can see it?

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Labour, Dunfermline and West Fife

I am always tempted to see the worst in this Government, but on this occasion I think it is probably a genuine oversight. They did not think things through and realise that, if the Procedure Committee simply had an informal session on this issue, it would not be able to share the wisdom of its thoughts.The Deputy Leader of the House shakes his head; perhaps there was some Machiavellian motive that he wishes to outline to the Committee. I was giving him the benefit of the doubt, but apparently it was a deliberate attempt not to have to reveal something.

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the procedures of, and publication of documents by, Select Committees are matters for them, not for Government. It would quite improper for the Government even to begin to suggest how a Select Committee should do its business.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Labour, Dunfermline and West Fife

I can assure the Deputy Leader of the House that the Chairman of the Procedure Committee would not respond favourably to such a suggestion, such is his independence of thought. However, why have the Government made it clear to my hon. Friend Chris Leslie that they do not believe it appropriate to pause slightly, so that the Committee can carry out a public, transparent and short inquiry in the new year? Perhaps the Deputy Leader of the House’s diary is so busy in the new year that he cannot do that.

The Government seem to be assuming that we will prorogue in the spring, and I look to the Treasury Bench for some clarity on that. My understanding is that all their Bills are currently jammed up in the House of Lords and there is absolutely no sign of their making any substantive progress on clearing the backlog. That is why, with the greatest of respect, we are having a series of Opposition debates and one-line Whips—because the Government have no business in the House of Commons.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I remind the hon. Gentleman and ask him to reflect on the fact that not one single member of the Procedure Committee, including the Labour members, asked for any sessions on this issue to be held in public. I say to him seriously that if, having put to the House that this is a technical alteration to accommodate the Government’s wish to change when the House prorogues, the Government were to use this as a lever or mechanism to reduce the House’s scrutiny of its business, there would be one hell of a row which many Government Members as well as Opposition Members would join, saying that the Government had misled the House and would have to retract what they were doing. The hon. Gentleman’s fears do not therefore amount to very much, because the Committee has proceeded with this measure on the basis on which it was introduced to the House today: that it is a technical change. If it became something else, there would be one hell of a—

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Chair, Panel of Chairs, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. Come on—this is a speech! You have already made one; we do not need a second speech, Mr Knight, do we?

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Labour, Dunfermline and West Fife

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. I have to tell him that the consequences of having an informal hearing were not in my view explained, and the Liaison Committee might wish to look at this issue in future.

I am conscious that Sir Alan Beith wants to speak, so I will sit down.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, National Policy Statements Sub-Committee 2:08 pm, 14th December 2011

I am slightly surprised at the sudden growth of opposition to this motion among Labour Members. I wonder whether there is any other aspect of today’s timetabling, or other matters, that may have entered into consideration, but I could be wrong about that.

I want to welcome the action the Government are taking, but before doing so let me say that Chris Leslie made what is in principle an important point: sessional discipline is significant in the way in which the House operates. It brings pressure to bear in circumstances where, otherwise, Government majorities tend to prevail; it causes them to stop and think as a degree of blockage occurs in the Lords at that stage of a Session.

We are talking about Bills—Finance Bills—founded on a Ways and Means resolution for a limited, specific and entirely explainable purpose related to the whole financial timetable of both the House and the Government. I was bemused by the idea of what state a Government trying to carry over a Finance Bill through three Sessions could possibly be in, other than the one envisaged by some Opposition Members in dealing with our current financial circumstances. This is not the debate to go into that, however.

I will deal first with the increase from three to five in the number of estimates days for this Session, which is a long Session. That is welcome, but I must put on the record the Liaison Committee’s request that there be five estimates days in normal Sessions, and our desire that that request be properly considered when we resume Sessions of the normal duration. There has been some Government resistance to that request—wait until we have at least seen more of the impact of the Backbench Business Committee. We have already seen the beneficial impact of that Committee, though, and I see no conflict there at all. Indeed, the Liaison Committee and the Backbench Business Committee are developing good ways of working together to ensure we maximise use of House time as Members want it to be used.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the number of estimates days will properly be a question for the House business committee, when it is established, and will he not press the Government to hasten the progress of their plan to do precisely that?

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, National Policy Statements Sub-Committee

I am an avid and long-standing supporter of the principle of a House business committee. I think you would rule me out of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, were I to stray too far into that subject, but let me say that that is indeed a matter that could be so resolved were that committee in existence. For the moment, however, we must look to the Leader of the House to do such things for us.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

It has always seemed strange to me that on estimates days we have before us vast tomes showing where the Government have switched money from one Department or one heading to another, but we tend to debate leisure centres or swimming or something else—nothing to do with money. If this House is serious about money, surely we ought to look at the estimates rather than debate some odd other subject?

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, National Policy Statements Sub-Committee

Absolutely so, and I have been advocating that for some time.

That brings me to my next point, which is about ensuring that Select Committees, which are the proper place to look at some of the substance of the estimates decisions and the movements of money from one thing to another, have appropriate time to consider such matters—as much time as possible, so that they can conduct meaningful scrutiny. Our discussions with the Treasury and the Leader of the House about that are reflected in the motions, but we will watch carefully to make sure that Select Committees are not expected within ridiculous periods—a few days—to produce considered views on the serious substance of estimates.

To sum up, the two major points that the Liaison Committee will certainly be considering and that we want the Government to consider are that due regard is given to the Committee’s previous recommendation of five estimates days per Session, and that Select Committees have time to consider estimates properly and so assist the House in doing what many right hon. and hon. Members have long felt should be done when we deal with estimates.

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 2:12 pm, 14th December 2011

With the leave of the House, Mr Deputy Speaker, I shall respond to the debate. I am most grateful to the right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to this brief debate. I am particularly grateful to my right hon. Friend Sir Alan Beith for his comments. He is right to say that there are wider questions and more far-reaching changes to the way the House scrutinises spending plans which we need to discuss at some point, but I think that those wider reforms would be best debated in the context of proposals from the Liaison Committee, rather than from Government. It may well be that there are better ways of organising our business. Mr Gray, who is not in his place

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon; he is not sitting where I expected to find him. He made an important point about the advent in due course of a House business committee. We are looking at that, as we said we would, but even under existing arrangements it is open to any Select Committee, through the Backbench Business Committee, to seek time on the Floor of the House to debate a motion relating to departmental spending plans. The great advantage of that method is that the time constraints and procedural limitations arising from estimates procedure are absent.

Mr Syms asked why, during estimates day debates, we talk about Select Committee reports on matters that are either at some distance from or fairly peripheral to the essential element, which is scrutiny of Government accounts. Although that is a good question, it is one for another day, as it does not fall within the narrow confines of the motion.

I am grateful to the Chair of the Procedure Committee, Mr Knight, for his assistance. The idea that this is somehow a rushed process, when we put the proposals before that Committee for its consideration back in February and it is now, let me remind the House, December, or that we did not think of these things in advance, when we passed the proposals for consideration before the announcement of the change to the sessional timetable, is something of a nonsense. These are matters on which we needed the advice of the House; we have received that advice through the Procedure Committee, and that is why the motion has been brought before the House.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Were the usual channels consulted and is there agreement? If there is agreement between the usual channels, I have some concerns.

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I of course have no idea what goes on in the usual channels, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me that it is far more important that a Select Committee of this House has had the opportunity to comment on proposals that affect the scrutiny of Government business by the House. Not only was the Procedure Committee consulted, but it agreed unanimously that the change would assist scrutiny by the House and would in no way diminish the opportunities for Members to have their say on Government business.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Minister (Treasury)

We have indeed heard that the Procedure Committee looked at the proposals, but it did so in private, informal session and there was no sharing of many of the proposals with other hon. Members until the business appeared on the Order Paper a few days ago, I think. Will the Deputy Leader of the House confirm the day on which it appeared? I saw it only recently and no one approached me to discuss it. To dismiss as nonsense the concern we have expressed about haste is a little overblown.

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I think the hon. Gentleman is making a valiant effort to bring some substance to his objections to the proposals, but he is not succeeding. At various times he accused me of being nonchalant. I hope that I am not nonchalant. Simply that something is technical does not imply nonchalance. Flying a jet liner is a technical business, but one should certainly not be nonchalant about doing so. As I said, we have thought through the consequences.

The hon. Gentleman said that we are massively increasing carry-over, but we are not. We are specifically and precisely dealing with the consequences for Finance Bills of the change to sessional periods. He said—at least, I think I heard him say—that having longer to scrutinise a Finance Bill made it more difficult to scrutinise it effectively. I am not sure that that is always the position of Her Majesty’s Opposition.

To deal specifically with his questions, the hon. Gentleman asked why should not the Finance Bill start in the new Session? The answer is: for the very obvious reason that if it did, the time available to the House to debate and scrutinise the Bill would be reduced. That cannot be right. He asked whether paragraphs (3) and (4) of new Standing Order 80A apply to Finance Bills. Had he read the explanatory memorandum, he would have seen stated therein that those paragraphs will apply to Finance Bills.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the provisions of paragraphs (12) to (14) of Standing Order No. 80A apply. Yes, the Standing Order will prevent a Finance Bill from being carried over more than once, as is stated in the explanatory memorandum. However, I have to say that if we had a Government whose Finance Bill was carried over between three Sessions, they would no longer be a Government, because they would not be a functioning Government. They would be a dead Government if they were unable to get their Finance Bill through in three Sessions of Parliament. I think we can safely assume that those circumstances will not apply.

On supply, the hon. Gentleman asked why the cut-off of 5 August under Standing Order No. 54 is being removed without being replaced. The timetable requirements for estimates procedures do continue and are set out in Standing Order No. 55. He asked why the first cut-off for supply is changing from a date in February to a date in March. That change does not affect the spring deadline. The February date was the cut-off for the winter supplementary estimates, which will no longer be published.

Despite the hon. Gentleman’s valiant efforts to try to find a cause on which he could unite his party against these very modest and sensible proposals, he has failed to establish any case for doing so. I commend the orders to the House and I hope that the House will be able to agree them without opposition.

Question put.

The House proceeded to a Division.

Ayes 266, Noes 187.

Division number 412 Business of the House

Aye: 266 MPs

No: 187 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly agreed to.

Ordered ,

That—

1. Standing Order No. 80A (Carry-over of bills) shall be amended as follows—

(a) in line 7, after the word ‘motion’, insert the words ‘(other than a motion relating to a bill brought in upon a ways and means resolution)’, and

(b) in line 23, at end, insert the words ‘(other than a bill brought in upon a ways and means resolution)’; and

2. the following new Standing Order be made—

‘(1) The Speaker shall put any question necessary to dispose of proceedings on a carry-over motion of which a Minister of the Crown has given notice under Standing Order No. 80A (Carry-over of bills) relating to a bill brought in upon a ways and means resolution—

(a) forthwith if the motion is made on any day before the bill is read a second time, or on the day the bill is read a second time; or

(b) not more than one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion if the motion is made at any other time.

(2) The following paragraphs of this order shall apply to any bill ordered to be carried over to the next Session of Parliament in pursuance of a carry-over motion to which paragraph (1) applies.

(3) If proceedings in committee on the bill are begun but not completed before the end of the first Session, the chair shall report the bill to the House as so far amended and the bill and any evidence received by the committee shall be ordered to lie upon the Table.

(4) In any other case, proceedings on the bill shall be suspended at the conclusion of the Session in which the bill was first introduced.

(5) In the next Session of Parliament, a Minister of the Crown may, after notice, present a bill in the same terms as the bill reported to the House under paragraph (3) of this order or as it stood when proceedings were suspended under paragraph (4) of this order; the bill shall be read the first time without question put and shall be ordered to be printed; and paragraphs (6) to (13) shall apply to the bill.

(6) In respect of all proceedings on the bill, any resolution which the bill was brought in upon in the first Session shall be treated as if it were such a resolution of the House in the next Session and any reference in any resolution upon which the bill was brought in to a Bill or Act of the present Session shall be treated in the next Session as a reference to a Bill or Act of that Session.

(7) In respect of all proceedings on the bill, the bill shall be treated as a bill brought in upon ways and means resolutions.

(8) If the bill was read a second time in the first Session, it shall be read a second time without question put.

(9) If the bill was not set down for consideration at any time in the first Session, any committal order in respect of the bill shall apply to proceedings on the Bill in the next Session (subject to paragraphs (10) and (11)).

(10) If the bill was reported from a public bill committee under paragraph (3), it shall stand committed to a public bill committee in respect of those clauses and schedules which were committed to a public bill committee in the first Session and not ordered to stand part of the bill in that Session.

(11) If the bill was reported from a committee of the whole House under paragraph (3), it shall stand committed to a committee of the whole House in respect of those clauses and schedules which were

committed to a committee of the whole House in the first Session and not ordered to stand part of the bill in that Session.

(12) If the bill was read a second time in the first Session and was not set down for consideration at any time in that Session, any order of the House giving leave for a committee on the bill to sit twice on the first day on which it meets in the first Session shall apply to the first day on which the committee meets in the next Session.

(13) If the bill was set down for consideration at any time in the first Session, the bill shall be set down as an order of the day for (as the case may be) consideration, further consideration or third reading.

(14) Notices of amendments, new clauses and new schedules given in respect of parts of the bill not disposed of in the first Session shall be reprinted as notices in respect of the bill as presented and proceeded with under paragraph (5).’.