Business of the House (26 February)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:04 pm on 25th February 2013.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 10:04 pm, 25th February 2013

I hesitate to call the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House disingenuous, but that is probably the only proper description of what he has just enunciated. Standing Order No. 20 provides that private business should be given three hours between the hours of 4 o’clock and 7 o’clock. The Leader of the House has all the rest of the parliamentary timetable to play with as he wishes, so surely he should respect the right of people who put private business before the House to do so with some certainty as to when that business will begin and conclude. That is the whole purpose of Standing Order No. 20.

If there was no Standing Order, we would be treating private and public business in exactly the same way. As Members know, I take a keen interest in private business, and I think it is important that we do not tear up our Standing Orders on an ad hoc basis. It is almost invariably the case that the Leader of the House tables a motion to try to vary the convention under Standing Order No. 20 that private business should be dealt with for a specified three-hour period.

If I was speaking on behalf of the promoter of a private Bill, I should wish to have certainty; it is unwhipped business, so to ensure that it can proceed it is important that the Member in charge of the Bill can tell colleagues to come along to the debate because at 7 o’clock there may be a vote. Instead of that situation being crystal clear for everybody, tonight’s proposal will mean that nobody will be quite sure when business on the City of London (Various Powers) Bill will be concluded, assuming that it extends for a three-hour period.

In my submission, the City of London (Various Powers) Bill is very important. Obviously, this debate is designed to ensure that we have three hours between 4 o’clock and 7 o’clock tomorrow afternoon dedicated to dealing with the Bill. In paragraph 7 of the statement by its promoters, they state that progress on the Bill, which was introduced in Parliament in November 2010,

“was delayed as the Promoter sought to address Government concerns as to the compatibility of certain of the Bill’s provisions with the EU Services Directive. The Promoter obtained an opinion of leading Counsel supporting the inclusion of the provisions and passed this to BIS in February 2012. BIS, having reserved its position to the Second House while it considered the issue…has now indicated that it has not altered its original view”.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills therefore does not agree with the opinion of leading counsel obtained by the promoters of the Bill. Those of us who discussed the last set of private Bills will recall that the EU services directive is a very controversial measure. [Interruption.]

I shall not talk more about the Bill now; I simply emphasise that it is significant and should be of interest to a wider group of parliamentarians, particularly those concerned about the implications of the implementation of the EU services directive.