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

At a time when productivity in so many parts of our economy is in question, it is important that the House should set a good example by being very productive. I am sure that no one would wish to suggest concluding our proceedings unnecessarily early.

This issue should not be treated with levity. The whole purpose of Standing Orders is that we should maintain and stick to them. If, whenever we had private business, the Standing Orders were invariably set aside, they would be brought into disrepute. In the absence of a written constitution, the Standing Orders are our ultimate defence of liberty. That is why I take very seriously attempts by the Government to undermine the Standing Orders.

Let us look at what would happen tomorrow if the business of the House motion were not carried. The sitting would start with questions. Then there would be statements, though we do not yet know whether there will be any urgent questions or statements tomorrow. Then we would get on to the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill. If discussion on that Bill had not finished at 4 o’clock, we could continue discussing it at 7 o’clock. What is so unreasonable about that? It seems a sensible way of proceeding.

Let us remember that in the past the Government would not normally have given half a day for Report and Third Reading of a major Bill; they would have allocated a whole day. Indeed, that is what they did originally in the programme motion that was carried by the House on 19 November last year, in which it was agreed that Report and Third Reading of the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill would have a full day. As the

Government want to curtail debate on the Bill, they have tabled a motion among the remaining orders to restrict the length of Report and Third Reading, and they are compounding that felony by saying that they wish to push private business to later on in the day, so that the Bill can be accommodated before private business.

Anyone would think that the Government were not in control of their business. Why are we having to debate this at 10 o’clock on a Monday night? It seems as though they run their business on a rather hand-to-mouth basis. Why did they not decide on this several weeks ago? I hope that the Leader of the House will address that issue when he responds.

I have tabled some new clauses and amendments to the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill, and I see no harm in splitting consideration of the Bill, with our debating it until 4 o’clock, and starting again at 7 o’clock. [Interruption.] I see that Kevin Brennan thinks that would be a good idea, and I hope that, in due course, that will be reflected in the way he votes in any Division that takes place.

We do not need to make a great meal of this. It is important that we should stand up for the rights of the House. We should make it clear to the business managers that they cannot just push stuff though on the nod, and that there will always be some of us who will want to raise questions and not be pushed around, as we feel we are being pushed around now.

I hope very much that the House will support the proposition that under Standing Order 20 private business should be dealt with for three hours between 4 o’clock and 7 o’clock tomorrow and that any other Government business should be fitted in around the private business, rather than the private business being kicked into the long grass—relatively speaking—for consideration later in the day. That is my proposition, and that is why I tabled the amendment, which was not selected. That would have been a slightly academic amendment, as reflected in the Speaker’s decision not to call it, because I see no prospect whatever of the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill being finished before 4 o’clock tomorrow afternoon. The issue before the House is a straight one: do we accept the motion on the Order Paper or do we not?