Business of the House (Today)

– in the House of Commons at 2:14 pm on 10th December 2013.

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Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Leader of the House of Commons 2:14 pm, 10th December 2013

I beg to move,

That, at today’s sitting, notwithstanding Standing Order No. 20 (Time for taking private business), the Private Business set down by the Chairman of Ways and Means may be entered upon at any hour, and may then be proceeded with, though opposed, for three hours, after which the Speaker shall interrupt the business.

On Thursday 5 December, I confirmed that business for today, 10 December, would be the remaining stages of the National Insurance (Contributions) Bill, followed by opposed private business. The motion on the Order Paper seeks to protect the time available to debate the proposed private business. The programme motion previously agreed by the House on 4 November for the National Insurance (Contributions) Bill provides a full day for consideration of Report and Third Reading. The House also needs to debate and approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism.

The motion I have tabled—with the agreement of the Chairman of Ways and Means—would therefore allow the private business to run for up to three hours following the conclusion of the National Insurance (Contributions) Bill and the statutory instrument on the prevention and suppression of terrorism. A motion is needed because consideration of Government business will probably take us beyond 4 pm, the normal time for commencing opposed private business on a Tuesday. It would also allow the House to sit beyond the moment of interruption, if necessary. I hope that Members will not want to obstruct the business that the Chairman of Ways and Means has set down for today. I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough 2:15 pm, 10th December 2013

I was rather surprised to hear what the Leader of the House said in his closing remarks—that the Chairman of Ways and Means was entirely happy with this. Earlier today, I recall the Chairman of Ways and Means standing up and announcing that opposed private business would be taken at 4 o’clock today, in accordance with Standing Order No. 20. Nothing that the Leader of the House has said affects the ability of the House to sit after that. The point of the Standing Order is that there is a specific time for opposed business—between 4 pm and 7 pm. That allows those involved in the consideration of the private business to know what time the House is going to debate it.

I have heard an enormous number of complaints, and I am sure that the Leader of House will have heard them, about sitting late to discuss opposed private business. That is entirely because the Government continue to take Standing Orders, rip them apart and say that they are not going to abide by them. What should have happened today is that the debate on Government business should have continued to 4 o’clock and then stopped so that the opposed private business could be dealt with. After finishing the debate on private business, we should then have gone back to the previous debate. That is what should have happened; this Government are not being fair to those who are interested in listening to, and hearing about, opposed private business. People who are interested in those Bills do not know what time they will be debated, which is completely the wrong attitude. That is why we have Standing Orders; they are there to help the House.

I am minded to divide the House on this issue so that Members can say whether or not they want to sit late tonight to discuss opposed private business. If they are willing to do that, I do not want to hear another murmur from any hon. Member about sitting late and having to listen to my hon. Friend Mr Chope. This is a really important issue, with the Executive deciding that their business must overrule the procedures for Parliament. I urge the Leader of the House to think again.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering 2:17 pm, 10th December 2013

I support my hon. Friend Mr Bone. You will know, Mr Speaker, as the guardian of the Standing Orders in this place, how important they are to the effective running of House business. We had an interesting debate—I think it was on Monday last week—about the amendment of certain Standing Orders. I am not aware that the Government approached the Procedure Committee—or indeed any other Committee—with a view to amending Standing Order No. 20.

This issue crops up again and again with opposed private business. If the Government are not happy with the rule that allows us to debate these matters at 4 o’clock on any given afternoon, they need to make representations to the appropriate Committee to get the Standing Order permanently amended. Indeed, we would not even be having this debate at this time on this afternoon, were it not for one or two hon. Members objecting at the requisite point on previous evenings when this item was on the Order Paper and it was not possible to have debate like the one we are having this afternoon.

There must be very good reasons, laid down in “Erskine May” or other House publications, to explain why Standing Order No. 20 is in place. These Standing Orders are very difficult to make, and there must have been substantial debate about the merits and demerits of this Standing Order when it was drawn up. The House, in its wisdom, has decided that opposed private business should be debated between the hours of 4 pm and 7 pm on any given day, and I suggest that Members’ minds may be fresher at that time than later in the evening.

You will know, Mr Speaker, that some of this opposed private business is extremely arcane. Many fine points of detail are extracted by Members who are interested in scrutinising such legislation, and my hon. Friend Mr Chope is an exemplar in that regard. However, when he tries to do a service to the House by scrutinising such detailed legislation, what he is faced with, again and again, is criticism from other Members who resent having to debate such detailed items well into the evening, and well past the time at which they had expected to be able to go home.

The reason such legislation is not debated between 4 pm and 7 pm is that, on each occasion, the Executive try to fiddle with the Order Paper—fiddle with the agenda—so that it is not debated at the appropriate time. Some of us, including my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough and me, are fed up with that abuse of the parliamentary timetable, but, despite our best efforts to obtain a reasonable response from the Executive, we are not getting that reasonable response.

I suggest to the Executive that if they want to amend Standing Order No. 20, they should set about trying to get that done through the Procedure Committee. Until they do so, I do not see why the House must debate the order of opposed private business when it is clearly laid out in the Standing Orders of the House, which all of us should do our best to abide by.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Leader of the House of Commons 2:21 pm, 10th December 2013

With the leave of the House, Mr Speaker, I shall respond to the points made by my hon. Friends Mr Bone and for Kettering (Mr Hollobone).

As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering, the House could have considered this matter on earlier occasions, but the motion was objected to on those occasions. If the House had approved it at an earlier stage, it would have been clear to Members who are interested in the opposed private business that it would be dealt with later in the day.

We are not seeking to amend Standing Order No. 20. We are asking the House, “notwithstanding Standing Order No. 20”, to fix the time of the business today, our purpose being to ensure that time is available for both the public business and the opposed private business. I make no apology to the House, or beyond, for the fact that we give priority to public business in this place. As it happens, however, there is more pressure on public business than usual today as a consequence of yesterday’s tributes to Nelson Mandela. Today’s urgent question and statement, and, indeed, the motion relating to terrorism, might otherwise have been taken yesterday.

This is a decision for the House, and the House is being invited, notwithstanding Standing Order No. 20, to ensure that there is sufficient time for the public business today, followed by the protected three hours for the private business.

Ayes 264, Noes 7.

Division number 155 Business of the House (Today)

Aye: 264 MPs

No: 7 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That, at today’s sitting, notwithstanding Standing Order No. 20 (Time for taking private business), the Private Business set down by the Chairman of Ways and Means may be entered upon at any hour, and may then be proceeded with, though opposed, for three hours, after which the Speaker shall interrupt the business.