Nomination of Members to Committees

Business of the House (Today) – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 12th September 2017.

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Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means 7:45 pm, 12th September 2017

We now come to motion 5 on the nomination of Members to Committees, which will be debated together with motion 6. Before I call the Leader of the House to move the motion, I should inform the House that Mr Speaker has selected the amendment to motion 5 in the name of Mr Alistair Carmichael. The amendment will be debated together with the main motions, and questions necessary to dispose of the motions will be put at the end of the debate.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 8:12 pm, 12th September 2017

I beg to move motion 5, on the nomination of Members to Committees,

That notwithstanding the practice of the House in the nomination of Members to committees, the following orders shall have effect for the duration of the present Parliament:

A: SELECTION COMMITTEE

(1) There shall be a select committee, to be known as the Selection Committee, to discharge the functions of nomination to committees provided for in the Standing Orders of the House relating to public business and to carry out the functions set out in or by virtue of the provisions of this order.

(2) The Committee shall consist of nine Members, of whom three shall be a quorum.

(3) Mr Alan Campbell, David Evennett, Patrick Grady, Andrew Griffiths, Jessica Morden, Christopher Pincher, Julian Smith, Mark Tami and Bill Wiggin shall be members of the Committee.

(4) The Committee appointed under this order shall be regarded as the Committee of Selection for the purposes of motions for nomination of select committees under 15 paragraph(2)(b)(ii) of Standing Order No. 121 (Nomination of select committees).

(5) The Committee shall have the power of nomination to and discharge from general committees provided for in Standing Order No. 86 (Nomination of general committees).

(6) The Committee shall observe the conditions on nominations of public bill committees on a private Member’s bill set out in Standing Order No. 84A (Public bill committees).

(7) The Committee shall have the power to nominate members to European Committees in Standing Order No. 119 (European Committees).

(8) The Committee shall have the power of nomination and discharge of members as provided for in bills by a general committee">Standing Order No. 92 (Consideration on report of certain bills by a general committee), Welsh Grand Committee (composition and 25 business)">Standing Order No. 102 (Welsh Grand Committee (composition and 25 business)), Northern Ireland Grand Committee (composition and business)">Standing Order No. 109 (Northern Ireland Grand Committee (composition and business)) and Regional Affairs Committee">Standing Order No. 117 (Regional Affairs Committee).

(9) The Committee shall have the power of appointment provided for in, or by virtue of, paragraph (8)(a) of England and Wales and being within devolved legislative 30 competence">Standing Order No. 83J (Certification of bills etc. as relating exclusively to England or England and Wales and being within devolved legislative 30 competence), paragraph (4) of Standing Order No. 83P (Certification of instruments) and paragraph (6) of Finance Bill is to be brought in, etc.">Standing Order No. 83U (Certification of motions upon which a Finance Bill is to be brought in, etc.) of two members of the Panel of Chairs to assist the Speaker in certifications.

(10) The Committee shall have powers to send for persons, papers and records in the 35 execution of its duties.

(11) The provisions of Private Business Standing Orders shall apply to the Committee established under this order as if the Committee were the Committee of Selection established under Standing Order 109 of those Standing Orders;
and each reference to the Committee of Selection in those Standing Orders shall be taken as a reference to the Committee established under this order.

B. SELECTION COMMITTEE (NOMINATION TO GENERAL COMMITTEES)

The Selection Committee shall interpret paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 86 (Nomination of general committees) in such a way that where a committee has an odd number of members the Government shall have a majority, and where a committee has an even number of members the number of Government and Opposition members shall be equal;
but this instruction shall not apply to the nomination of any public bill committee to which the proviso in sub-paragraph (iv) of that paragraph applies.

C: POSITIONS FOR WHICH ADDITIONAL SALARIES ARE PAYABLE FOR THE PURPOSES OFSECTION 4A(2) OF THE PARLIAMENTARY STANDARDS ACT 2009

The Chair of the committee established under part A of this order shall, for the period that part A of this order has effect, be a position specified for the purposes of section 4A(2) of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, subject to paragraphs (2) to (4) of the resolution of the House of 19 March 2013 (Positions for which additional salaries are payable for the purposes of Section 4A(2) of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009) which apply as if that position were referred to in paragraph (1)(a) of that resolution;
and, for that period, the chair of the Committee of Selection shall not be a position so specified.

D: NOMINATION OF PROGRAMMING COMMITTEES

The Speaker shall interpret paragraph (2)(b) of Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) in such a way that the number of Government and Opposition members nominated to each such committee shall be equal.

E: NOMINATION OF PROGRAMMING SUB-COMMITTEES

The Speaker shall interpret paragraph (3)(b) of Standing Order No. 83C (Programming sub-committees) in such a way that the Government shall have a majority of the 65 members nominated to each such committee.

F: NOMINATION OF REASONS COMMITTEES

That, unless the House otherwise orders, the Government shall have a majority of the members nominated to each committee to draw up reasons.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

With this it will be convenient to consider:

Amendment (a) to motion 5, leave out part B.

Motion 6—Standing Orders etc. (Departmental Nomenclature) (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)—

That the following changes to Standing Orders be made:

A: Select Committees Related to Government Departments

(1) That Standing Order No. 152 (Select committees related to government departments) be amended in the Table in paragraph (2), in item 3, by inserting “Digital,”
before “Culture, Media and Sport”
in each place it occurs.

B. European Committees

(2) That the Table in paragraph (7) of Standing Order No. 119 (European Committees) be amended in respect of European Committee C, by inserting “Digital,”
before “Culture, Media and Sport”.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The Government are determined to fulfil their constitutional rights and obligations towards the people of the United Kingdom. We are getting on with the task set for us by voters, honouring the result of both the EU referendum and the general election. [Interruption.]

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. It is my understanding that Members are anxious to take part in this debate and to listen to the arguments. I cannot understand, therefore, why there is so much other conversation going on in here. If Members wish to speak, will they leave the Chamber?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Our working majority will allow us to carry out the legislative agenda as set out in Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech. As all Members will be aware, a working majority can be achieved in three ways: first, through an overall numerical majority; secondly, through a coalition, like in 2010; and, thirdly, through a confidence and supply agreement, which is the current arrangement between the Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist party. This gives the Government a working majority of 13, and it is what allowed the Gracious Speech to be passed by 323 to 309 votes. If the Government have a working majority to pass legislation on the Floor of the House, the Government should also be able to make progress with legislation in Committees.

On the amendment tabled by Mr Carmichael and Caroline Lucas, I again say that the motion is simply to ensure that the Government’s working majority on the Floor of the House is reflected in Committees, which will allow legislation to be dealt with in an orderly fashion.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

The Leader of the House is saying “working majority” an awful lot in her speech so far, but her working majority—done through the deal with the DUP—does not entitle this Government, to make life easier for them, to gerrymander the Select and Standing Committees. This was the woman who said that Parliament had to be given back control, but the only control she seems to be interested in is the Government’s control of this House, which is a constitutional outrage.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

Scrutiny by the House is of vital importance—the hon. Lady makes a very good point—and it has long been established that the Opposition must have time to scrutinise Government business, but it is also well understood that the Government of the day must have a realistic opportunity of making progress with getting their business through the House. The motion that the House is being asked to agree guarantees that the party with a working majority is able to do exactly that.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Leader of the House keeps referring to having a working majority. For the purposes of this Parliament, the Government have a working majority only for matters of confidence and supply. Matters of confidence and supply are not committed to Public Bill Committees; they are dealt with on the Floor of the House. In Committees, the Government should not have—because they do not have in this House—a working majority.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government do have a working majority on the Floor of the House, and as they are extensions of the Floor of this House, it is right that the Government must be able to have a realistic opportunity of getting their business through Committees.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

Is it not a fundamental position in our constitution that the Queen’s government must be carried on, and is it not also true that if the motion is passed, its being passed will prove that the majority is there for the Government to get their business through?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend gets right to the heart of the issue. He is absolutely right.

The Opposition tabled reasoned amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Had they passed last night, they would have been fatal to the Bill, and would have achieved nothing other than to frustrate the will of the people of the United Kingdom. In Committee, we cannot expect this Opposition to behave any differently. Hundreds of minor, technical changes are voted on in every Parliament through Committees, but unless this motion is passed, even these changes could be prevented. Amendments made by a handful of Opposition MPs in Committee would then have to be reversed on Report, involving multiple Divisions and many unnecessary hours spent passing through the Lobbies. This would cause lengthy delays at a time when the public rightly have the expectation that the Government will deliver their business through the House in a timely fashion.

Governments have been in similar situations before. This Chamber has seen Governments with small majorities or no majorities, and those that have lost their majorities during the course of a Parliament. Last week, the shadow Leader of the House said that this motion was unprecedented, but in fact, if Opposition Members recall their modern political history, they will find that a precedent for today’s motion was actually set by the Labour party. In 1976, the late Walter Harrison, Labour deputy Chief Whip, proposed a motion on a sitting Friday, with no notice and no debate, to grant the Government a majority on Standing Committees, and this majority was retained when they soon after became a minority Government. To quote from “This House”, the west end play inspired by Walter Harrison:

“We have History as our guide.”

Governments in the past as well as in the present—and, I am sure, in the future, too—will need to make sure, through similar proposals, that they can deliver on their promises to the people of the United Kingdom, and that is what these measures seek to do.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 8:19 pm, 12th September 2017

I thank the Leader of the House for the explanation, albeit fairly brief, of why the motion is before the House. I want to ask three questions: why, why and why? Why are the Government doing this, why is this necessary, and what does the motion say? Basically, for the benefit of hon. Members, it gives the Government an extra place on the newly named Selection Committee.

When the motion was tabled last Thursday, the Government included only eight names. They hastily added Julian Smith to the list. Members will note from part C of the motion that the Chair will be remunerated. The name has been changed to the Selection Committee and it feels rather like a Select Committee. If that is so, should not the whole House vote on the Chair?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

In case the hon. Lady is unaware, under the existing arrangements the Chair of the Committee of Selection is a remunerated position, so that is not a change, but just carries forward existing practice.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was listening, but the name of the Committee has changed from the Committee of Selection to the Selection Committee.

The Selection Committee appoints Members to the Standing Committees. The Government want the extra place on Public Bill Committees to give them the majority that they do not have. This is not about the smooth running of business; it is a power grab. It is not about allowing proper scrutiny; it is a power grab. It is not about wanting to abide by the democratic result of the election; it is a power grab. What are the Government relying on? I heard nothing from the Leader of the House on why the Government want to do this.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

I wonder whether the hon. Lady could answer one question. If the situation were reversed, does she think she would be bringing forward a similar motion to the one that has been brought forward by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House?

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

There is no end to the hon. Gentleman’s talents, because he has asked the question that I was just about to answer.

What are the Government relying on? Is it precedent? In 1974, the minority Labour Administration had a Government majority on the Committee of Selection, but it appointed Standing Committees with no overall majority. That is, there were Committees with equal numbers. In October 1974, there was a Government majority and that was reflected in the Committees. In April 1976, when the Government lost their overall majority, a motion was passed that stated that the Committee of Selection would appoint Committees with a Government majority only when the Government had an overall majority. That was the Harrison motion. From that point, the Committee of Selection nominated Standing Committees of equal numbers. That was a Labour Government being honourable.

In 1995, there was a Conservative Government and the Whip was withdrawn from the Maastricht rebels. Some hon. Members might be too young to remember the Major Government, but the former Prime Minister had a name for some of those people and it began with B

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Yes, there was more than one of them.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

No.

The motion that was agreed by the House in 1995 stated that “unless and until” the party that had a majority at the election loses it through by-elections or defections—not when the Whip is taken away—Standing Order No. 86(2) shall be interpreted

“in such a way as to give that party a majority on any standing committee.”

Let us look at the Standing Orders, which could be another reason why the Government are doing this. But, oh no, Standing Order No. 86(2) states clearly:

“In nominating such Members the Committee of Selection shall have regard to the qualifications of those Members…and to the composition of the House”.

The words “composition of the House” are found in other Standing Orders, too. I do not know if Members are aware, but Standing Orders are how the House does business. The Deputy Leader of the House knows that because he is a lawyer. He will know that the civil procedure rules are there for a specific purpose, and so it is with Standing Orders. They are there so that the House can do its business in a proper and orderly way. The Government, however, have no regard for the rules of the House. Why is the Leader of the House ignoring Standing Orders? What is her interpretation of the words “composition of the House”?

Perhaps the Government are relying on democracy. That is disingenuous, because the Government did not win the election. This is a minority Government. They did not get a mandate. The British people gave us their verdict, and what they wanted was to rein back the Government, and for the Opposition to scrutinise the Government and make them accountable. Public Bill Committees are where the British people expect us to reflect the views of our constituents, business, science, the financial system, the legal system and our fundamental rights—all the things that make up this thriving democratic country, with its devolved Governments that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Many hon. Members said yesterday, “Don’t worry about the powers reserved to Ministers; we can make amendments in Committee.” They cannot. With this motion, Back Benchers cede the power to the Government to select Members and ensure the Government have the majority on Standing Committees. It will be impossible to amend the Bill. The Government are packing the Committees—the Whips are one step ahead of them all.

In his widely acclaimed speech on Thursday, the Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU said:

“That we are leaving is settled. How we leave is not.”—[Official Report, 7 September 2017;
Vol. 628, c. 368.]

New evidence comes forward every day from the negotiations—or perhaps the lack of negotiations. Look at what happened to the party that went into coalition with the last Government: reduced in numbers, because they propped up a Government they could not control. Hon. Members will know in their heart what is right and the democratic thing to do.

Perhaps the Government are relying on the constitutional position. This minority Government are governing through a confidence and supply agreement. Who knows what will happen when the £1 billion runs out. May I ask the Leader of the House why the Government should have a majority on Committees when they do not command a majority from the country?

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

No, I will not give way.

The Government did not even try to make it work. The Opposition’s names are very reasonable. My right hon. Friend Mr Campbell, my hon. Friends the Members for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) and for Newport East (Jessica Morden) and even Patrick Grady are all very reasonable Members. I know that they would be pleased to sit down with the Government and work out a reasonable solution that would be in keeping with the constitutional position and the democratic will of the country—[Interruption.] This shows everybody that Government Members do not want to listen to the argument. They just want to interrupt—[Interruption.]

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. If the hon. Lady does not wish to give way, she does not have to give way.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not appreciate being shouted at across the Chamber by Mr Bone.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I ask the hon. Lady, very gently, to give way.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I will not give way.

No party enjoys an overall majority. You will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the Opposition have struggled to get an Opposition day debate since January. The shadow Chief Whip and his office are incredibly upset by the suggestion that they were not ready to put forward names for the Committee when they had them ready—we were ready to go in July—and that is why the House should not give these powers away to the Government. I feel sorry for the Leader of the House. She has been sent out in a bright outfit like Ri Chun-hee, the North Korean television presenter, to tell us that everything is well when actually something really bad and dramatic is happening to our democracy. [Interruption.]

This is an over-reaching and overbearing Executive. The Government are taking away from Parliament powers to which they are not entitled.

Photo of Maria Caulfield Maria Caulfield Conservative, Lewes

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Tomorrow we have a debate in Westminster Hall about involving women in politics. The shadow Leader of the House’s remark about a female Member of the House was unacceptable.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

The hon. Lady and the House will fully understand—[Interruption.] Order. The House must at least be quiet while I am speaking. The content of the speech of Valerie Vaz is entirely up to her. I sometimes wish that I could comment on what people wear in the Chamber—many will be glad that I am not allowed so to do. The hon. Lady decides the content of her own speech, and I will not intervene in any way.

Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will not dignify that point of order with further comment.

The motion is based on neither precedent, nor Standing Orders, nor the constitution nor democracy, so I ask again: why is it necessary? This is a Government by convention, not majority, and I urge hon. Members, for the sake of parliamentary democracy, to vote against the motion and to take back our sovereignty.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee 8:32 pm, 12th September 2017

You will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that as Chairman of the Procedure Committee, I am not afraid to cross swords with my Government. I have been the Chairman of that Committee for five years, and we have had several run-ins. For the record, I will go through them. We had a run-in over amendments to the Queen’s Speech and the bouncing of Parliament over the election of the Speaker—a particularly raw moment in my political career. We had the impenetrable and unnecessary complexity of English votes for English laws—although the Committee made excellent suggestions, they fell on deaf ears, as the Government chose to ignore them. We have had the Government’s belligerence regarding the reform of private Members’ Bills, but I shall continue in my efforts to reform that bit of nonsense. Most recently, Opposition Members will remember that I stood up and berated the Government for not giving Opposition days in a timely fashion to Her Majesty’s Opposition. I said that the Government were being ungenerous and that they should be generous.

I am, therefore, no friend of the Government Front Bench. I trash them and I lash them—thwack, thwack, thwack—on a regular basis. [Laughter.] Have I broken with parliamentary convention, Madam Deputy Speaker? If I have, let us put it before the Procedure Committee.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

The hon. Gentleman is being wonderfully dramatic; that is perfectly within parliamentary convention.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee

Politics is show business for ugly people, and I am a frustrated actor.

Try as I might, however, I cannot work myself up into a lather about this. I would love to be furious with the Government—I really would—but I cannot be. I get angry very quickly and blow up, and I make some spectacular apologies, but I cannot get too wound up about this.

If the House will indulge me, may I go back in time and revisit the 1970s? From March 1974 until April 1979, the Wilson Government, despite being a minority Administration at times, had a majority on the Committee of Selection for all but three months of their five years in office.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee

Of course; forgive me. I was only a small child at the time—I was in shorts.

The only time the Wilson Government did not have a majority on the Committee of Selection was when the Labour Chairman, Hugh Delargy, died. From 4 May 1976 Labour’s majority on the Committee was restricted for three months, until 6 August. The majority was then restored after the House wrung out the concession that, when appointing Members to Standing Committees, the Committee of Selection would appoint even numbers.

Aha!

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee

I give way, but there is an “Aha” here.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Intervention)

The House of Commons Library has provided an excellent briefing for the debate. According to my reading of it, during that period in 1976, the then Leader of the Opposition, Margaret Thatcher, vehemently denounced the trickery of the Labour Government. Was she wrong?

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee

Lots of things are said, but we are looking at what happened, and the fact of what happened is that for the entirety of the Wilson/Callaghan Governments—well, for all but three months, so not quite the entirety—the Government of the day had a majority on the Committee of Selection: when they were a majority Government and when they were a minority Government, at times.

It is worth hon. Members reading the motion because there is nothing to prevent the Selection Committee from choosing to have an even number of members of Standing Committees. What the motion says is that when Selection Committee decides to have odd numbers—if indeed it ever decides to have odd numbers—the balance will be in favour of the Government. However, it could well be—

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee

I will in a moment, because I have a lot of time for my friend opposite.

It could well be that the Selection Committee, under the chairmanship, I suspect, of my hon. Friend Bill Wiggin, that noted free spirit, will decide on many occasions that the balance should be equal, so I still do not understand why we are getting so exercised about this. I now give way to Steve McCabe.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He talks about wringing out concessions. Is he suggesting that the concession we should demand is that the Selection Committee agrees to even numbers, and we can then accept that?

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee

That should absolutely be for the Committee to decide. It is not impossible that its Chairman, who will want to work with all Members, may decide that there should be an even number of Members on Bill Committees. That cannot be ruled out, and it is entirely possible.

Let me say, in conclusion, that there is a lot of sound and fury around this issue. I know the Opposition Chief Whip, and I think he is a genius, but he is a—with a small “c”—conservative Whip. I suspect that some of my exotic plans to reform private Members’ Bills have been thwarted by not just my own side, but the Opposition Chief Whip. I merely say that, I suspect through a half smile, the Opposition Chief Whip entirely understands why the Government are doing this, and can accept it.

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Independent, North Down

Unfortunately, a serious point was not picked up by either the Leader of the House or her shadow: the published deal between the Conservative party and the DUP is confined exclusively to confidence and supply. The serious issue for people in Northern Ireland, and for the House, is that the insistence of the Leader of the House that the Government have a majority on the Floor of the House gives rise to speculation that secret side deals have been done with the DUP. Surely the hon. Gentleman should be insisting that those deals are revealed to the House.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee

The hon. Lady knows that that is far above my pay grade. I do not think that secret deals have been done, but I do know this: the Government have commanded a majority in the House on the basis of the 17 votes connected with Government business.

I have been good-natured this evening, because I want the debate to be good-natured. I take being Chairman of the Procedure Committee incredibly seriously, and if at any time I felt that the Government were doing something untoward, I would hold them to account, as I have done time and again in the House. I say genuinely to Opposition Members that I really do not understand what the upset is.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

May I presume from what the Chairman of the Procedure Committee says that he will join us in the Lobby to support my amendment? If it were passed, the Government would of course still have a majority on the Selection Committee, but would just have to use it in accordance with the procedures of the House as they have always been accepted. Why is that objectionable?

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee

Nothing that the right hon. Gentleman has said is objectionable. I will not be joining him in the Lobby, but not because I find what he is proposing objectionable—I just happen to disagree with it.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

Let me make it clear to the House what the deal between our party and the Government is. First, there are no side deals; it is a confidence and supply agreement. The important point for this debate is that the purpose of the confidence and supply agreement is to ensure stable government over the period of this Parliament, and that requires the Government to be able to get their Bills through and to have the requisite numbers on Committees as well.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee

I am glad this debate is providing us with an opportunity to revisit the agreement. I suspect that I would not be in order if I were to respond to that intervention, so I think the best thing for me to do is to thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the House for being so generous, and to sit down.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 8:41 pm, 12th September 2017

So there we have it: “Great power grab 2”, the sequel, the return—“Then they came for our Committees.” This is an incredible, totally undemocratic power grab from a Government who do not command a majority in this House.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

I will make a little progress, and then give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Not content with giving themselves unprecedented powers under the repeal Bill, the Government are now trying to manipulate the Committees of this House in their favour. The nation should be very worried about what is going on, because this Government are showing nothing other than contempt for democracy in their desire to ignore and circumvent the democratic verdict of this country.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

I say to the shadow Leader of the House, Valerie Vaz, that this is how it is done: a Member seeks to intervene and that is granted, and they rise to speak and then sit down. That is what a debate is all about.

It has just been said that this is undemocratic and a power grab, but we are in the Chamber of the House of Commons with a motion before us. We are going to have a vote; if the Government do not have a majority in the House, they will lose that vote. If the Government win the vote, they have a majority in this House of Commons. So let us not beat around the bush; let us get to the vote.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

I am almost grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Yes, the Government with their grubby £1 billion deal with the Democratic Unionist party have a confidence and supply arrangement on the Floor of the House; what they most definitely do not have is a majority on the Committees of this House, which are determined by the country and how the people voted.

This minority Conservative Government have 317 Members out of the 650 Members available in this House; that amounts to 48.7% of the membership of this House. What they are therefore entitled to is 48.7% of the membership of the Committees of this House. But that is not the case for this Government; for them, democracy is a mere impediment as they grimly hold on to power and ensure they get their way in everything they try to undertake. This is a Parliament of minorities, and the structures and arrangements of this House must reflect that reality and that fact.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, whose speeches are normally compelling, but on this occasion there is one flaw. If this motion is passed, it is the democratic will of the House of Commons that standing orders be amended, and therefore that has democratic backing. For him to say it is not democratic is simply wrong.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

The Government will pass this tonight; they will get their way because they have the DUP in their £1 billion pocket, but that does not make it right or democratic. They have 48.7% of the membership of the House; they should not have any more than that proportion in terms of committees.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries for the future)

Mr Rees-Mogg talks about democracy, but it would seem that democracy in this place cost £1.5 billion, and we face probably the greatest constitutional crisis that these islands have seen since 1922. We might also reflect on 1974, but if we really want to get a grip on the notion of how Committees are selected, we need to live with the present experience, not that of 1974, and face the constitutional crisis that we have today.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I want to move on to what happened in the 1970s, because it is very instructive and there are real lessons that the House could be learn from that experience.

We now know why this Government have been so lax in putting together the normal functioning arrangements of the House. I raised this matter on the day we came back to Parliament, and I always feared that we would reach the stage when a motion such as this would be presented to the House. All this nonsense about Select Committees and why they were delayed was mere collateral damage resulting from the Government’s intention to control the legislative Committees. Now, at last, the rest of the House and the media are alert to the dangerous path that this Government are taking us down.

This House is determined by parliamentary arithmetic, and the day that we play fast and loose with that arithmetic and the verdict of the British people is the day that we start to walk down a murky, anti-democratic path. Our membership of the Select Committees is based on the number of Members that we secure. That allows us our membership on Select Committees, and it allows for our speaking rights and for all the other arrangements. These orders do not reflect the numbers of the House. We know that because the Clerks were charged with coming up with the formulae that allowed us to determine the Committees of the House. When it came to the Select Committees, the Clerks went away and crunched the numbers and then came back and presented the results to the parties. It was expected that there would be five Conservative members, five Labour members and one from the other parties, and everybody accepted that because it reflected the arithmetic of the House.

The Clerks also said that the Government should not have a majority on Standing Committees because they do not have a majority in this House. When it came to even-numbered Committees, they agreed with the Government that there should be no majority. That was fine, and everybody agrees with that. The Clerks did the numbers and the Government accept that. For Committees with an odd number of members, however, the Clerks said that there should be an Opposition majority. Remarkably, according to the Clerks, the Government only have a majority on Committees of 13 members. If we disregard the information supplied by the Clerks of this House—the people responsible for arranging the arithmetic, crunching the numbers and coming up with the formulae—we are again entering some seriously dangerous territory.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

I hesitate to start talking about spreadsheets on the Floor of the House, but the hon. Gentleman has tempted me. It is true that the Conservative party does not have a majority by itself—[Interruption.] That is not a revelation. But the Government command a majority because they have the support of a smaller party. If we take those two together, which is all that we are talking about, we do have a majority. The official Opposition party does not command a majority in the House either, but the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that that should be the case.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

The House is going to get sick and tired of that argument because it is a feeble fig leaf that does not for a minute cover the fact that this minority Conservative Government do not command a majority in the House. They have their murky arrangement with the DUP—they have them in their pocket—and they command that majority on the Floor of the House, but we have to do what is right and what reflects the reality. We must respect the verdict of the people of this country, but we are not doing that.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh and Wickford

Although the Conservative party has the support of one minor party, if we do not have a majority in the House of Commons, how did we pass the Queen’s Speech?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

That is the Government’s problem. If we are democrats, we tend to accept the verdict of the people who are charged with putting us in this place, and they did not give this Government a majority. For some reason, the Conservative party just cannot respect that reality, which is bewildering.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston Conservative, Mid Worcestershire

Is not this synthetic indignation a bit rich coming from a party that does not respect referendum results and another party whose leader does not even command the respect and confidence of 80% of his own Back Benchers?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

Let me tell the hon. Gentleman about my party, and maybe he will listen. Between 2010 and 2015, the Scottish National party had a majority in the Scottish Parliament, and with that majority we had a majority on the Committees of the Scottish Parliament. Unfortunately, we lost that majority last year by one seat. We had a much bigger percentage share of the vote than this Conservative Government have. What was the first thing we did when we accepted that result? We gave up the chair and the majority on each of the Scottish parliamentary Committees without a sigh of protest. That is how to respect parliamentary democracy and the outcome of the people, so I will take no lessons about the example set by my party.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer Conservative, South East Cambridgeshire

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, if legislation that would otherwise go to Committee went instead to the Floor of the House, it would be passed because the Government have a majority to pass it? If that is true, is it not to be accepted that the Government have a majority?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

Parliamentary democracy, and I say this candidly, is sometimes messy. There are sometimes issues and difficulties, but the way to do our business is enshrined in centuries of tradition and convention. We have a Second Reading, we send a Bill to Committee and then it comes back on Report. We then have a Third Reading before sending it to the unelected cronies down the corridor. That is how we do business in the House. Sometime it does not work out quite perfectly, and we have to accept that.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip

I caution my hon. Friend not to take lectures from the Government on democracy. I remind him that he won his election and that his opponent has been stuffed into the House of Lords, so he should take no lectures from the Conservative party.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

Some of my Scottish colleagues were not deemed sufficiently proficient to fill the post of Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, so the Government had to ennoble someone to fill it––someone I defeated in the election.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

I want to make some progress. I have given way on countless occasions, and I will try to give way as I progress through the next 45 minutes of my speech.

The history is quite compelling, and I am fascinated by the previous examples:

“he said that in future Committees must reflect the numbers in the House of Commons? Is the Prime Minister repudiating that?”—[Official Report, 29 April 1976;
Vol. 910, c. 551.]

Those are not my words but those of Margaret Thatcher when she railed against the injustices of the then minority Labour Government’s attempted power grab. If this parliamentary jiggery-pokery was an injustice for Margaret Thatcher in the 1970s, it should be an injustice for the sons and daughters of Margaret Thatcher in the 2010s.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham

I am intrigued by the hon. Gentleman’s new-found enthusiasm for the blessed Margaret Thatcher, but are there not two solutions to the problem he is trying to set out? One is to have an Opposition majority on Standing Committees, which would inevitably lead to Government legislation being completely chopped up and returned to the Floor of the House in different form, and the second is to decide every piece of legislation in Committee of the whole House. Both those solutions would cause chaos. Is that what he actually wants?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

All these great concerns about chaos and arrangements that will lead to this and that are an indictment of the Members of this House. They say, “If we were to respect parliamentary arithmetic when it comes to this, all it would lead to is chaos.” That says something about the membership of this House. More critically and crucially, it goes against the advice of the Clerks on the membership of Committees. I say to the hon. Gentleman: have a look at what the Clerks determine as to how these Standing Committees should be established. The fact that this House is prepared, in this vote, to overlook the good advice of the Clerks on a matter they are obliged to determine is a shame on this House.

I want to come back to Margaret Thatcher. I never thought I would be quoting her in the House. It is a novelty, and I do not think I will ever get used to it or be comfortable with it. Let me get back to what I was saying about the 1970s and to what Conservative Members are asking us to do here. They are saying that just because the Labour party did something rotten in the 1970s, we must do something rotten too, in order to address this. That is totally unacceptable to Scottish National party Members who say, “A curse on all your houses. Deal with the parliamentary arithmetic. Accept the realities and get on with it.”

I will make two points about the 1970s, and again I was intrigued when I looked into this. The Harrison amendment was introduced in the most despicable way to this House, by subterfuge and sleight of hand, but the amendment created this set of conditions for a couple of months. At that point, the Labour Chair of the then Committee of Selection died and it stopped; we went back to the normal arrangements and for the rest of that Labour minority Administration, the parliamentary arithmetic of the House was respected. The second thing about that minority Labour Administration was that it became a minority Labour Administration––that Labour Government actually won an election. The current Conservative Government never experienced that a few months ago, so we will take no lessons on this.

Let me deal with this “chaos” thing. Sometimes democracy is not all that convenient and it throws up strange results. Sometimes we just have to get on and deal with it. What you do not do is try to circumvent democracy; what you do not do is table motions like this one, which is so disrespectful to the people who voted in the election.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

I have given way to the hon. Gentleman before and I want to make some progress.

What you do is respect the way that the people would do this. The most ridiculous and audacious thing in all the anti-democracy that these guys are up to right now is this new Committee of Selection. As a Select Committee of this House, it should be subject to the formula determined by the Clerks, but the Government want to give themselves an inbuilt majority. They will determine the numbers on Committees with this, so on anything contentious—anything that we are likely to object to—they will determine that an odd number will be used and so they will get their way. This is absolutely disgraceful.

I want to say something to my friends in the Democratic Unionist party, because it is important. I have heard quite a lot about this working majority issue, and I want to explore it a little. I say to them that we used to campaign together for the rights of minority parties in this House, as we all were then. I hope that they reflect on that when they vote tonight and do not just give that crowd over there a majority in these Committees. I hope they remember the campaigns that Sammy Wilson and I fought together to ensure that the smaller parties in this House were properly represented in these types of Committees. We fought long, hard fights together, and it is shameful to think about completely giving this over to the Conservatives.

There is another aspect to this: if DUP Members vote with the Government tonight, it will leave questions about their Opposition status and raise further questions about their entitlement to Short money. It would have to raise those questions because it would look like the Government are paying a rival political party. It is also worth noting that a High Court ruling is coming up soon about the whole grubby DUP deal.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. As a result of the threat of the legal action he has mentioned, we found out earlier this week that the Government say that they need parliamentary approval for this £1 billion bung that they want to pay to the DUP. Does he therefore agree that until such time as that vote takes place, even on their own terms of a “working majority”, the Government do not have one until the deal is in place?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

Absolutely. If DUP Members are going to vote with the Government, they should go to that side of the House and end this pretence of being an Opposition party. If DUP Members are going to vote for this and betray all the things we worked for in the past 15 to 20 years, they should just go and sit with the Tories. This Government have failed to respect their new humbled position as a minority Administration; instead, we are beginning to see some unsavoury elements in almost acquiring the status of some sort of parliamentary dictatorship. This House should not accept this proposal tonight for a minute, and I urge the House to reject it and ensure that we continue to honour parliamentary arithmetic.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. Before I call the next person to speak, it will be obvious to the House that a great many people wish to speak this evening—I have indications from more than 20—and we have one hour of debate left. I hope Members will act in a courteous fashion and keep their speeches short.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset 9:00 pm, 12th September 2017

I certainly do not want to detain the House for long, but I do wish to take seriously the interesting speech by the shadow Leader of the House, Valerie Vaz. I shall comment on its logic and the motive that it betrays, and thereby try to set the debate in its proper context.

Let us observe the logic of the hon. Lady’s remarks. She argued that it was improper for the Government to seek to establish a majority on the Committee of Selection with a view to having either equal or superior numbers in Committee, because, she implied, that would enable the Government to pass legislation that they might not be able to pass on the Floor of the House because, she argued, they do not actually have a majority on the Floor of the House. Let us take that proposition seriously and suppose she is right; let us suppose that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is wrong and we do not have, for the purpose of many Bills, a working majority. Incidentally, there is no evidence so far of that proposition being true: as far as I am aware, the Government have managed to pass all their business so far in this Parliament in good order—indeed, with rather larger majorities than the supply and confidence agreement would imply.

Nevertheless, let us suppose that in general the shadow Leader is going to be proved right. If she is right, when it comes to the Report stages of all the Bills in question, she and her colleagues will have the delight of being able, one by one, to reverse all the amendments against which they voted in Committee. Therefore, if her own argument is correct and she actually holds the majority, she cannot have any reason of substance for caring whether there is a majority for the Government upstairs in Committee. According to her own argument, she has in her hands the power to take such steps as to ensure that the Bills come out as she wants them.

Manifestly, that is not her view. Her view, which was displayed passionately by her desire to prevent the Government from taking a majority on Committees, is that she is at least not sure—in fact, I suspect that she strongly suspects she does not have a majority on the Floor of the House. That leads me to the question of motive. If, actually, she does not believe that there will be any substantive difference one way or the other—indeed, she cannot believe that there is, because it is a clear matter of plain fact that whoever holds the majority on the Floor of the House will prevail in the end—we have to ask why she put the argument she did. What is her motive? We know what it is, because it is the same as the motive of the former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, who was quoted earlier. It is the traditional motive of Oppositions and it is a perfectly respectable position for Oppositions to take.

What are Oppositions in business to do? Incidentally, I do not know whether it makes sense to have a parliamentary system as opposed to a Congress and so forth, but it is the system we have so, in that system, what is the purpose of an Opposition? First, it is to hold the Government to account by causing trouble in the House of Commons; secondly, it is to seek to destabilise the Government; and thirdly, it is to put themselves in a position of having appealed to the people sufficiently so that when the Government are destabilised, the Opposition can win a general election and take power. That is the legitimate role of an Opposition under our constitution. It therefore always falls to the Government of the day —as it did to the Labour Government under the conditions about which Mrs Thatcher was complaining and as it does now to our Government—to seek to assert the principle that Her Majesty’s Government should be able to take the steps necessary to pass their legislation, and not merely in substance but in good order and at a reasonable pace. It is the Opposition’s duty to seek to disrupt that, which is, of course, what is going on here.

The Labour party wishes to achieve not a substantive change in the outcomes of legislation but the delicious prospect of their being able to make it well-nigh impossible for the Government to get any sizeable amount of business through the House, which is, despite all the ritual shakes of the head that are going on at the moment, exactly what any respectable Opposition would seek to do. I congratulate them on it, but there is not the slightest reason why people on the Government Benches should be beguiled by this, any more than the Callaghan and Wilson Administrations were beguiled by Mrs Thatcher’s asseverations at the time. This is a ritual dance that will always occur under circumstances such as those that we now face. We should continue in exactly the way that the Government are doing in order to deliver what the people of this country want, which is the smooth process of Her Majesty’s Government. That is what is in the interests of the people of the country and that is what should guide us.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 9:05 pm, 12th September 2017

I rise to speak to the amendment standing in my name and in the name of Caroline Lucas.

It is a pleasure to follow Sir Oliver Letwin, as he is a man whom I hold in very high regard. I served with him in the coalition Government for five years as a Minister. Indeed, for part of that time, I sat beside him at the Cabinet table. Therefore, with substantial regret, I say that what he has just given us was not his finest contribution. What he described was some sort of parliamentary game-playing or sport. When he spoke about the functions of Opposition, he missed out the most important one. The most important job that we as Opposition Members of this Parliament have to do is scrutiny, which is why the composition of the Committees to which we commit Bills upstairs matters. That is why it is, in fact, a matter of quite fundamental principle.

I think that we might all acknowledge that, from time to time in this House, we indulge in a little bit of hyperbole, occasionally even straying into polemic. I think of some of the matters that the right hon. Gentleman and I opposed during the years of the Blair-Brown Government. One example is when they tried to extend detention without charge to 90 days. I remember also the passage of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. He and I and others described them then as constitutional outrages—it was a “power grab” and an “affront to democracy”. I may even on occasion have indulged in a small measure of hyperbole and rhetoric myself. [Hon. Members: “No!”] We all do it. I am reminded that when Paddy Ashdown was leader of my party, it was a joke popular among other parties—obviously not to me or the media at the time—that the message on his answering machine was, “Thank you for calling Paddy Ashdown. I am not able to take your call. Please leave your message after the high moral tone.” We have all done it, but the difficulty that is caused by relying on rhetoric and hyperbole is that it is difficult then to know what to say when we come across a proposal such as that which the Government bring to the House today. I can describe it as others have done as a, “constitutional outrage”. I can say, as others have done, that it is an affront to democracy. However, to say that suggests that that is somehow just the same as those measures that we have previously described in those terms, but it is not. It is much worse. It is an obnoxious measure for which I know of no precedent in my time in the House.

In this country, we do not have a written constitution. We proceed much of the time according to the process of convention and principle, and so it is also for the ordering of our proceedings in this House. Here, too, we often rely on the process of convention and precedence. It is a delicate system of checks and balances. I am certainly not saying that it is one that is incapable of improvement. I have supported many improvements to it over the years, but we have to approach these matters in a rather more holistic manner than is being taken by the Government tonight. Once we start removing these checks and balances, we risk at least one of two things.

First, we can bring the machinery of Parliament to a grinding halt, and tonight the Government risk breaking our machinery beyond repair. The alternative prospect is that we raise the possibility of other parts of the system reacting in a way that is designed to compensate for our breaking of the checks and balances. It is known in this House, surely, that their lordships in the other place proceed on the basis of the Salisbury convention. They respect our right to be the superior Chamber because we have the democratic mandate from the voters. Now, if we are not going to demonstrate respect for the democratically reached decision of the voters, how can we expect their lordships at the other end of the building to do so?

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

Quite a number of peers, including Liberal Democrat peers, have questioned whether the Salisbury-Addison convention applies. Lib Dem peers have said that they do not feel bound by it as they had nothing to do with it when it was agreed in the first place.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

That is indeed the case. My party was not party to the discussions that resulted in the convention and have not felt themselves to be bound by it. But it remains the fact that it is something on which the majority within their lordships’ House have proceeded until this time, and which continues to be the case to this day.

It is a fundamental principle of this House that the composition of Committees should reflect the composition of the House. That means that if the Government have a majority in the House, they will have a majority in Committees. It goes beyond that. On matters where we decide things by way of a free vote and the matter then goes upstairs to a Public Bill Committee, the composition of that Committee reflects the vote of the House here. That is the most fundamental principle that we have, and I use these terms advisedly. It is not a convenience, nor something that is just here to be discarded when it becomes difficult or messy. It is absolutely fundamental to the way in which we do and have always done our business.

The Prime Minister went to the country. She asked for a bigger majority. She was denied it. She was returned as the largest party and that offered her a number of different options: she could have sought to govern as a minority; she could have entered into a coalition and got a majority that way; or she could have entered into a confidence and supply arrangement. She chose to take the latter approach. As a consequence, she has a majority on the Floor of the House for matters of confidence and supply. Matters of confidence and supply do not go upstairs to Public Bill Committees. They are dealt with on the Floor of this House. So it is simply wrong for the Leader of the House to assert—as she has done tonight along with others on the Treasury Bench and Government Benches—that the Government have a working majority. Beyond confidence and supply matters, they do not.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

I do not like disagreeing with the right hon. Gentleman, but he is just wrong. I have looked at the agreement. It does not just cover confidence and supply. This is rather pertinent given how much legislation there will be. It also covers matters pertaining to the country’s exit from the European Union and legislation pertaining to national security. So the agreement is much wider, and Brexit will be a big chunk of the legislative agenda of this Parliament.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The right hon. Gentleman will also be aware that constitutional matters such as the question of the future of our membership of the European Union are also dealt with on the Floor of the House, so although the agreement may go slightly further than that which is normally understood by the terms of confidence and supply, it is not a comprehensive deal that gives the Government a majority on the Floor of the House. If it were, the Democratic Unionists would not be on the Bench behind me; they would be on the other side of the House on the Government Benches.

There is no direct precedent for this. There has been talk in this debate about the position that pertained relating to the Labour Government from 1974 to 1979. The clear distinction—this is an important point, of which the House should not be ignorant—is that, on that occasion, when the country was asked to choose a Government, it chose a Labour Government by a very narrow majority. That Government started with a majority—something the present Government simply do not have. I do not like what the Harrison motion did. My party opposed it then, as we oppose this measure tonight, but let us not pretend that it is somehow the same thing.

That takes me back to my quarrel with the right hon. Member for West Dorset. Surely, in advancing a change as profound as this, there has to be something more substantial by way of argument to support it than, “They did it when they were in government.”

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

As the right hon. Gentleman says, we have had a long period of co-operation, and he was a fine Minister. However, did he not notice that my argument was actually that this proposal is necessary for the smooth conduct of business, subject to a clear check on the Floor of the House on Report? Does he not agree that, under those circumstances, it is perfectly reasonable for a Government to seek to govern the country smoothly?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Of course it is reasonable for a Government to seek to govern the country smoothly, but the right hon. Gentleman seems to think that what happens in Committee is just some administrative inconvenience. It is not; it is much more fundamental than that. It is the job of this House—not just the Opposition—to hold the Government to account. That is why I say to right hon. and hon. Members on the Government side, many of whom I hold in high regard, and many of whom I regard as personal friends, that they know that what they are doing tonight is wrong. They also know that if it was being done to them, they would oppose it root and branch.

We know why the Treasury Bench—the payroll—will support this measure, but those on the Back Benches have a duty that is higher than their duty to their party: it is their duty to their constituents and to this House —their duty to democracy. I ask them to consider that duty before they go into the Lobby this evening.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean 9:17 pm, 12th September 2017

Rather than repeating arguments, let me go through the arguments that have been raised so far and comment on them as I think fit, which I hope will be of assistance to the House.

The Leader of the House made an admirably short speech—I do not know what the shadow Leader of the House was moaning about. Normally everyone moans in this House that people go on for too long, but the Leader of the House crisply enunciated the purpose of the motion and set it out very clearly. That was an admirable thing for her to do.

I listened to the shadow Leader of the House very carefully. She moaned about references to the Selection Committee rather than the Committee of Selection. I am afraid that reminded me—we have already mentioned Monty Python once in the debate today—of the argument about the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front. I do not think that what the Committee is called is significant. [Interruption.] It is just not important—arguing about what the Committee is called is not important. In addition, the Chair of the existing Committee of Selection is already paid, so the current proposal is not a change, and there is no sinister aspersion the shadow Leader of the House can cast on that. So I did not think that those arguments really had any great weight.

The substance of the hon. Lady’s argument was driven through precisely by my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin, who put his finger on the issue: if we pass this motion this evening, it will demonstrate again—as have all the votes we have had since this Government were formed—that we actually command a majority in this House. The hon. Lady’s only possible motivation for not wanting to agree to the motion is that she wants to gum up the works.

The hon. Lady invited us to look at the Opposition Members being put forward for the Committee and to assess their reasonableness, and I do not necessarily quarrel with that—they are very reasonable people. I would argue that the Government Members who have been put forward to serve on the Committee, including the Chair, are very reasonable people. However, if we want to look at the Opposition’s approach to reasonableness and the progress of business, we do not have to go back very far; we only have to go back as far as yesterday, when the Opposition were faced with the decision of the British people to leave the European Union. They knew it was necessary to have the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and to pass that legislation, but they chose to oppose it. If they had got their way, they would have frustrated the will of the British people. Rather than abstain and try to improve the Bill in Committee, as a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends chose to do in saying that they support the principle of the Bill but it needs improvement and they have tabled amendments—the Lord Chancellor has indicated that he is going to discuss those amendments in a constructive and appropriate way—they chose to vote against the Bill to try to vote it down. A number of Opposition Members spotted the inconsistency between that approach and the referendum result and called them out on it. That betrays the hon. Lady’s real motive.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Conservative, Ribble Valley

Does my right hon. Friend find it somewhat bizarre that representatives of the Scottish National party and the Liberal Democrats are saying that Conservative Members are trying to circumvent democracy, and yet although on 23 June 2016 the British people decided to vote, by a margin of more than 1.3 million, to leave the European Union, on every piece of legislation we have brought before this House, those Members have voted against the democratic wishes of the British people?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

My hon. Friend makes a strong point very well, but I think my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset put his finger on it.

I listened very carefully to the arguments made by Pete Wishart. I should just counsel him that he wants to be a bit careful quoting Margaret Thatcher. While she is held in high regard by Conservative Members, I note that the leader of his party, the First Minister of Scotland, says that her entire political mission to get independence for Scotland was driven by Margaret Thatcher, so if he starts quoting her in this House with approbation, he may be putting his own future in his own party at great risk—and Conservative Members would not want to see that.

The hon. Gentleman’s arguments did not hold much water. Again echoing my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, if we win the vote on this motion, we will have demonstrated that we command a majority. As I said in an intervention, he is entirely right to point out that the Conservative party on its own does not have a majority in this House, but the Government do. The Opposition cannot command a majority either.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Social Justice)

Does it not boil down to this? Up until now, the Government have managed to garner the support of the DUP on the issues that have been brought before the House, but they do not garner its support on all issues, hence they foresee problems and want to bring forward this measure. The measure is quite convenient for the DUP because it means that it keeps hold of its Short money, so it suits everybody. Is not that the nub of the issue?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

Not at all. As I said to Mr Carmichael, the confidence and supply arrangement is quite wide. [Interruption.] No, it does not cover everything, but it covers legislation pertaining to Britain’s exit from the European Union, and that is going to be a significant proportion of what the House considers during this Parliament.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

Let me finish responding to the hon. Gentleman before he intervenes again. If it is the case—this is where my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset put his finger on it—that the DUP does not support the Government on a particular matter, then whatever happens in a Public Bill Committee or a Delegated Legislation Committee, when that matter returns to the Floor of the House, Opposition Members will get their way. There is therefore nothing for the hon. Gentleman to worry about. It will not be possible for Conservative Members to force through our wishes if we do not command a majority in the House. That is the democratic check that my right hon. Friend explained very well.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

Is not the other point that if the Government can command a majority in this place on the ground floor, it would be utterly bizarre if they lost it on the first floor, where the Committees take place? People outside Parliament would perceive that as perverse and illogical.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The shadow Leader of the House talked about the British public being outraged about what was going on in Public Bill Committees. I have to say—I do not know whether my constituency is particularly typical—that if I went out into the street and spoke to 100 people, I doubt that more than two or three of them would even know what a Public Bill Committee was. I do not think she is accurately characterising what the British people think. What they think was described by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset: they had an election, they had a referendum, they had another election, and we have a Government who got a considerably larger number of seats than the main Opposition party. The people want us to get on with governing the country, making decisions and delivering a smooth exit from the European Union as well as to deliver on important domestic matters. That is what they want us to do and we are well aware of that responsibility.

In conclusion, this is a reasonable measure. It is about ensuring that the Government can conduct their business in a reasonable way but there is always a check and a balance. Ultimately, if a measure is brought forward in a Committee that does not command majority support on the Floor of this House, this House will have its way, not the Committee. There is a democratic check and balance in place, so Members should have no trouble supporting the motion when it is put to a vote in a short while.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Labour, Bishop Auckland 9:25 pm, 12th September 2017

I had not intended to speak in the debate, but I was so appalled by the remarks of the Leader of the House that I felt that I had to. I feel that the Leader of the House has not understood her role. Her job is not to represent the Government to the House but to represent the House in the Government. She spoke about her constitutional responsibilities, but I should have thought that her constitutional responsibilities would include defending parliamentary democracy, which this motion patently does not do.

Government Members are not being logical. They say that the Opposition are not, but the loss of logic is on their side. If the Leader of the House was right to say that she has a majority, she would not need to change the rules of the game. It is because she does not have a majority that she needs to do so. Government Members are talking as though we are in a world of two-party politics, but we are not any longer. Nobody is saying that the Members of the other parties—the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the DUP or Plaid—should not have seats on Committees. Under the formula interpreted by the Clerks, they will get their fair share of the seats. They will be represented properly. This is not just a Labour-Tory game, and the Leader of the House does not seem to have taken that into account.

Furthermore, the point made by Sir Oliver Letwin is incomplete in the extreme. He was in the House yesterday and was present during all the debates about the Delegated Legislation Committees. He knows as well as we do that when statutory instruments are produced and go to Committees upstairs, or when we use the negative procedure, they do not come back to the House. He knows that perfectly well. He also knows that schedule 7 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which we were debating yesterday, proposes to put whole stacks of delegated legislation through those Committees.

Every single Member who has spoken and mentioned Brexit has revealed that that is the Government’s game plan. They have become so obsessed with getting a hard Brexit—not the Brexit that the British people voted for, but a hard Brexit—that they are proposing to suspend the normal rules of this House. I am very disappointed that a number of hon. Gentlemen—

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Labour, Bishop Auckland

The right hon. Gentleman promised to let me intervene and then refused, so I do not feel I need to give way to him.

Just to make another point about the remarks made by the right hon. Member for West Dorset, he has been saying that it does not matter if we do not agree with all the clauses in the Bill—if we agree with the principle of the Bill, we should vote for it. That would be like a person going into a restaurant and saying, “I didn’t like the soup, and I didn’t like the beef, and I didn’t like the apple pie, but I thought it was a great meal.” The right hon. Gentleman seems to be making completely absurd speeches these days. Anyway, the central point is that the Government’s game has been revealed by what has been said. It is all about getting a hard Brexit through. It is not about the consensus building that the Secretary of State for Brexit has been promising us for the past 15 months. The tail is wagging the dog in the Conservative party. I am sorry to tell Conservative Members that they are not taking the country with them on this. The general public are quite clear that this motion is about packing Committees. We have all had endless letters from our constituents, and I am not going to vote for the motion tonight.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough 9:30 pm, 12th September 2017

It is a great pleasure to follow Helen Goodman, although I do not agree with her interpretation of the motion before us tonight. I would be the first one in the No Lobby tonight if the arguments made by the Opposition held water. It was weird that the shadow Leader of the House would not take any interventions. I think that that was because the Labour Opposition do not actually know what they are talking about on this matter: it is a lot of hot air—

Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons)

You’d know all about that!

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Certainly. Of course.

As I understand it, the Opposition are saying that when a Bill goes into Committee, the Members on the Committee always vote in the way the party Whips tell them to. That is just not the case. I have seen Government Members in Bill Committees who are absolutely opposed to something the Government are proposing because it is not right. That is what the Committee system is about. It is about improving Bills. I am reluctant to say that I agree with my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin on this issue, but he is quite correct. The check and balance is the Report stage. If, as the Opposition claim, they have the majority in this House, they will be able to reverse anything that is passed in Committee.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

No. I am taking a leaf out of the shadow Leader of the House’s book.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman misrepresents the case that is being made on this side of the House. We are not saying that this side of the House has a majority; we are saying that his side of the House does not.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point. I was surprised that the official Opposition had not tabled an amendment to the motion, which I could have supported and I think he could have supported. I do not agree with his amendment because it simply removes part of the motion. A sensible amendment would have instructed the Selection Committee to ensure parity on all Public Bill Committees. What the Bill actually says is that if a Committee has an even number of Members, there will be parity. The simple answer would therefore be to ensure that all Committees had an even number of Members, but Labour did not table such an amendment.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The effect of my amendment would be perfectly simple. It would allow the Government to have their majority on the Selection Committee but thereafter to use the rules that we have always used. Why does the hon. Gentleman think he should be allowed to change the rules simply because they do not suit him?

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

That is somewhat unfair, Mr Speaker, because you know that that is not what I would do if I thought the House was being done down by the Executive. In fact, I would be the first one to complain about it. It seems to me that the result of the election means that we should have parity on Public Bill Committees, and that could have been achieved by a simple amendment, which I would have supported. That did not happen, however.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

As a great democrat who obviously has massive influence over his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, why does he not urge her to accept such a sensible course of action?

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

The hon. Gentleman is making my speech for me. I spent a lot of time talking to the Clerk of the House, and I am grateful to the Leader of the House for the time she allowed me to go through this to ensure that I was absolutely right. The motion states that if a Public Bill Committee has an even number of Members, there is parity, and that is great. I urge the Selection Committee, when it comes into being, to make sure that Public Bill Committees have an even number of Members so that there is parity. That seems a very fair way forward, so I was a little surprised that the Labour party and the shadow Leader of the House, for whom I have a great deal of respect, did not seem to want to engage in the debate today. I think that the motion is perfectly fair and reasonable, and I hope that the Selection Committee will listen to this debate and interpret the rules in such a way as to make the situation fairer.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip 9:35 pm, 12th September 2017

As we like to say in Glasgow sometimes, “Where’s your parliamentary sovereignty now?” Over the past two days, I have listened to Conservative Members talk about how they were taking back control as a result of the European referendum, but all that will happen is that control will be taken straight from the hands of the hated Brussels bureaucrats and handed straight to the minority Executive and the mandarins in Whitehall.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

If the future Prime Minister from North East Somerset wants to intervene already, I am happy to let him.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

I would be delighted to be the Prime Minister of North East Somerset when it makes a unilateral declaration of independence. The hon. Gentleman does not realise what parliamentary sovereignty means. What it means is that this House can make its internal rules of operation, and that they cannot be challenged by any court in this country or abroad. This is parliamentary sovereignty in action.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

This is verbal gymnastics in action, and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the Brexiteers contort themselves over the past couple of days. How anyone who believes in the parliamentary sovereignty that they claim to believe in—anyone who believes in the democratic mandate that we have as Members of this House—can vote for tonight’s motion is absolutely beyond me.

The Government do not have a working majority in this House. It says so on the House of Commons website, which states “Government Majority 0”, with a small star to indicate that there is a confidence and supply agreement. If the Government had a working majority, the DUP Members who are sitting behind me would be sitting opposite me on the Government Benches. DUP Members are not part of the Government. If they were, this motion would not be a necessity because the Government would have the majority that they claim to have.

The reality is that we are a Parliament of minorities, and the Government should live up to the rhetoric that we keep hearing from them about wanting to work with everyone, work across the aisle and work for different parties.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

I am conscious of the fact that there is not very much time. The Government should instead use the Committees for precisely what Alex Chalk suggested. We saw plenty of Government Back Benchers yesterday voting reluctantly for the second reading of the Brexit Bill, because they wanted that Bill to be improved up the stair in Committee. If the Government reflect the balance of power in the House in Committees, parties will genuinely be able to work together to improve legislation that is dealt with in Committee.

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

I am very sorry to delay the hon. Gentleman, but because he has repeated something that some Labour Members have said, I think it is important to note for the record that the entire Committee proceedings on the Bill to which he refers will be on the Floor of the House, not in a Committee room.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

I accept that point. The Government do not have a majority here on the Floor of the House either, and Bills are improved in Committee. The whole point of Committees is that parties are supposed to work together.

As my hon. Friend Pete Wishart has pointed out, the situation is not difficult or unprecedented; it is exactly what happens in the Scottish Parliament, and it has happened on a number of occasions over many years. The Scottish Government at the moment are a minority Government, and they are in a minority on most, if not all, the Committees. Therefore, there has to be genuine cross-party compromise, and the Scottish Government have to respect the will of the electorate. Perhaps that is the fundamental difference, because in Scotland our tradition is one of popular sovereignty. The people have always had the right to choose and, if necessary, to dispose of their Governments. Of course, that is what happened to the UK Government in June this year. They were stripped of their majority, and so they should be listening to our views.

The Leader of the House cited as a precedent what happened in the 1970s, but, as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire, the hero of the Brexiteers, Margaret Thatcher herself, stood at the Dispatch Box and opposed the very kind of motion that the Government are now trying to drive through. The shadow Leader of the House spoke about the Maastricht rebels who voted to protect parliamentary sovereignty from the power-grabbing of Brussels. They morphed into the Brexiteers, but they are not rebelling any more. At least the DUP get their £1.5 billion and get to keep their Short money. I am not sure what the parliamentary sovereigntists are getting out of this. Mr Bone stood on the Floor of the House earlier this afternoon and quoted, with some approval, what David Cameron said about the progress of a Bill in the House:

“The Bill limps through. Then it goes to the Standing Committee. Their duty is to look at the details clause by clause. But it’s packed full of people that the whips put there. So, surprise, surprise, the Government rarely loses the vote on any of the individual points of detailed scrutiny.”

This same Member who stood here to propose handing power back to this House will now meekly follow his Whips through the Lobby.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

That is a complete misrepresentation. I said that the Committees should have parity. Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that that is what I said? [Interruption.]

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

I heard the hon. Gentleman say that, but—as my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire says from a sedentary position—that is not what this motion will do, and that is why we will support the amendment in the name of Mr Carmichael.

Members on this side of the House will get to go home with our heads held high, because we know that we are standing up for our constituents and respecting the result of the election. I sometimes think Members on the other side of the House think we are kidding when we say people from Scotland are paying close attention to what goes on here and what their MPs are doing, but we are not kidding. They are paying attention, and they see this place for the archaic institution that it is. They see the power grabs of a desperate minority Government, and they may begin to think, wonder whether and sense it is perhaps time to invest all their sovereignty in a different Parliament—one 400 miles up the road—and to complete the journey that started with the devolution referendum 20 years ago.

Photo of Marcus Fysh Marcus Fysh Conservative, Yeovil 9:41 pm, 12th September 2017

This has been a very entertaining debate in many ways. It is quite germane because, although a lot of people around the country may not understand the niceties of statutory instruments, secondary legislation and the myriad different things we do in this place, they want us to govern efficiently in their name.

Photo of Marcus Fysh Marcus Fysh Conservative, Yeovil

I will not give way at the moment because we are short of time.

The reality is that if the Opposition were to succeed in gumming up the system completely using legislation that they do not agree with, we would not have time in this place for all the other ambitions that the people of this country have. That is why it is absolutely in their interests and the public interest for this motion to be passed this evening.

I want to say on behalf of the people of Yeovil— Mr Carmichael mentioned the high moral tone of a previous MP for the area—that they have ambitions other than Brexit, but they also want the Brexit vote to be respected, rather than for the system to be gummed up. That, in short, is why I will vote for the motion.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester 9:42 pm, 12th September 2017

If the Leader of the House and Conservative Members are so confident about having a majority on the Floor of the House, as they have told us tonight, they should use that majority to overturn on Report any amendments that they do not like. They certainly do not need to start fiddling the system.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester

I have only just started. The right hon. Gentleman must give me a moment.

That is actually part of the problem, because this is not a one-off situation. This is the latest in a series of measures that this Government have taken since 2015 to move the goalposts, change the rules and fiddle the system in one way or another in aid of their own party advantage when they find they cannot get around this in any other way. There was the example—

Photo of Oliver Letwin Oliver Letwin Conservative, West Dorset

The hon. Gentleman is very generous in giving way. Has he calculated how much extra time would be spent on each Bill if the Government had to reverse on the Floor of the House all the amendments made in Committee? How smooth a process of government would we then have?

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester

I have not calculated that, but my advice to the right hon. Gentleman would be to win a general election with a proper majority next time and then he would not have that problem.

Last night, we saw a power grab. We know there was a power grab with the so-called Henry VIII powers and with the Government giving themselves the authority to pass any order on any matter. However, that was only the most recent aspect of the twisting of the rules.

We saw the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014, which required charities not to get involved in politics and potentially prevented them from scrutinising the activities of this Government. It did not apply to corporations or to newspapers, which are so keen to tell us how to vote, but only to charities and trade unions.

We saw the Trade Union Act 2016, which fundamentally altered the structure of the relationship between trade unions and the Labour party, thereby cutting funding for opposition to the Conservatives, even though there was no call for that from within trade union membership, and even though funding was not denied to any other political party. We saw the length of the Session doubled by the Leader of the House, but she has not doubled the number of Opposition days—and nor the number of private Member’s Bill days—to provide for scrutiny of the Government, including by Back Benchers. We have seen proposals to alter the number of constituencies, with very tight limits being given to the Electoral Commission. Apparently, that would give 30 extra seats to the Conservatives. Once again, they were changing the rules in the same way they are seeking to do tonight.

There is a clear authoritarian streak in what the Government propose—an anti-democratic streak. They seem to be running scared.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester

I will not give way to the right hon. Gentleman, because I thought he was a little too aggressive in his interventions on my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House. Oh, go on then!

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh and Wickford

I would just say, as the hon. Gentleman has just referred to this, that the fact that the shadow Leader of the House consistently would not give way suggested to the House that she did not have confidence in the case she was making.

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the proposals are so outrageous, why did the Labour party not table an amendment with an alternative?

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester

Because the proposals are so outrageous that they deserve to be knocked down completely, so we will vote against them. I say to the right hon. Gentleman and others that there is a real sense that having not won the election and having lost their majority, the Government are clinging to power by any means necessary.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester

I will not, because other Members wish to speak.

There is a sense—dare I say it—of two fingers being put up to the electorate in a contemptuous manner. The Government seem to be putting party before politics. These are the wrong proposals tonight. As Mr Carmichael said, there are good Members on the other side of the House whom I like and respect. When they go through the Lobby tonight, they will know that what they are doing is wrong and anti-democratic, and I hope they think long and hard on it.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer Conservative, South East Cambridgeshire 9:47 pm, 12th September 2017

In June, there was a vote to leave the EU. Both the Labour and Conservative parties committed in their manifestos to deliver that, so we have a duty to deliver it. The question that arises is how we do it. How do we fulfil the promise to deliver it? There are a number of practical issues that we need to overcome. There are thousands of pieces of legislation that need to pass into our law. Many are technical changes, but we need to ensure that our laws are certain so that businesses are able to be clear about their future.

I listened carefully during the two-day debate to speeches made by Opposition and Conservative Members, by leavers and remainers. Well-respected Members on both sides of the House recognised the importance of ensuring that there are practical solutions to avoid our country’s legislative process becoming gridlocked. My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve said that we cannot get rid of EU legislation overnight “without leaving enormous gaps.” Hilary Benn said that the task was “Byzantine in its complexity” and recognised the need to ensure that Ministers have

“latitude and flexibility to do what needs to be done”.—[Official Report, 7 September 2017;
Vol. 628, c. 381.]

The method that this Government have put forward is not unprecedented for two reasons. First, as we have heard, the Labour Government in 1976 were in the minority and passed similar motions to ensure that they had a majority on Committees.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

Will the hon. and learned Lady tell us what the sainted Margaret Thatcher thought about that arrangement in the 1970s?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer Conservative, South East Cambridgeshire

We can talk about what was said in the debate, but the outcome was that Labour secured a majority in Committee when it did not have one on the Floor of the House.

Yesterday, Kate Hoey said that the previous Labour Government actually doubled the number of statutory instruments that introduced new laws, so if legislating through Committee is accepted, as it has been for many years, as a means of government, and if ensuring that the governing party has a majority was accepted by the Labour party when it was in power, it is inappropriate for Labour to object to that when it is proposed by Conservative Members.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland)

Does the hon. and learned Lady not agree that a vital component of any legislature is check and balance through a committee system that will deliver quality legislation? Will extrapolating an artificial majority not simply dilute that ability to deliver quality scrutiny of legislation? This is, in effect, a power grab.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer Conservative, South East Cambridgeshire

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. In every sitting, whether in the Chamber, the other place or in Committee, it is vital that there is scrutiny. The hon. Gentleman, however, is suggesting that Members in Committee do not scrutinise when they are on one side or the other. He will know, as I do, that that is simply incorrect. There is scrutiny at every stage of the parliamentary process.

I now come to the key point. It is right that this motion is passed, because the Conservative party is the single largest party. It was elected with 13 million votes. It has 56 more seats than the next largest party. As Labour argued in 1976, it is simply inappropriate to lump together all the Opposition parties and treat them as one party when they have different interests and perspectives. We cannot say, when we lump them all together, that they hold the balance of power—they simply do not.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Labour, Bishop Auckland

The logic of the hon. and learned Lady’s position is that were the Conservative party to have 251 seats and the Labour party 250, with the other seats held by a variety of parties, it would still be right for the Conservative party to have a majority on every Committee. That is the logic of her argument. Is that what she is saying?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer Conservative, South East Cambridgeshire

What I am saying is that we need to assess the situation. At the moment the Conservatives have a significant majority. In fact, we have more seats than the Labour Government had in 1976 when they proposed such a measure.

As I said, the country voted in a referendum. The Labour party and this Government committed in their manifestos to deliver Brexit. We now need to do so. We need to deliver the democratic decision of the British people, and we need to do so in a way that is practical and expedient, while preserving the ability to scrutinise and debate. The motion will achieve that. As Graham Stringer has said, at the general election three months ago, the Labour party said it would implement its manifesto. It needs to do so, and to stop putting obstacles in the way of respecting the wishes of the British people.

Photo of Matt Warman Matt Warman Conservative, Boston and Skegness 9:53 pm, 12th September 2017

I entered the Chamber this evening thinking, like my hon. Friend Mr Walker, that this was a lot of hot air—that this was a fuss about nothing because, self-evidently, the Conservative party has a working majority on the Floor of the House of Commons. Not only has the Conservative party won every single vote in this House since the election and demonstrated a working majority, but it has won each vote by more than the number of additional supporting votes we garner from the Democratic Unionist party. There can therefore be no question that the Conservative party has a working majority on the Floor of the House of Commons. If that is the case, there can be no question that, in the eyes of the public, the Conservative party would be expected to have a working majority upstairs in Committee.

What are those of us on the Government Benches arguing for this evening? We are arguing against a Labour proposal that would turn every Committee decision back to this Chamber, gum up this Parliament, and throw a functioning Government into a state of paralysis on the Floor of the House. Yet the Labour party argues that we are seeking to do something undemocratic. It argues that a paralysed Government who can do no business on Brexit or anything else is somehow more democratic than the working majority that this Government have demonstrated every week in Parliament.

We have to ask ourselves what is the aim of opposing tonight’s motion. Is it some pretence of outrage about protecting democracy, or is it in fact an attempt to make sure the Government grind to a halt? There can be no question that Labour is seeking to grind the Government and the whole country to a halt, and that cannot be a democratic or sensible way for us to respect the wishes of the people who voted in the general election in June. Pete Wishart said there was something about democracy that was not always convenient. We could not have a better case of the pot calling the kettle black, because if we voted against the motion, democracy and the Government would be frustrated at every level. The idea that this is anything other than a naked power grab by an Opposition seeking to frustrate Brexit and this Government is absurd. Who is it who is seeking to frustrate democracy? Is it a Government who have a working majority here simply seeking one upstairs, or is it an Opposition party seeking to grind us to a halt?

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Procedure Committee

This entire debate is a dead letter because the best the Opposition could hope for is an equal number on a Bill Committee, and in the event of a tie, which most votes would be, the Bill would remain unamended anyway, so none of their proposals would be carried.

Photo of Matt Warman Matt Warman Conservative, Boston and Skegness

I want to agree with my hon. Friend that we should not get too wound up and should just carry on, but I cannot when we are being accused by Opposition parties of seeking to fundamentally subvert democracy. What subverts democracy fundamentally are Opposition parties of whatever flavour that want to use this as a pretext to grind the process of leaving the EU to a halt and to grind the Government’s entire business to a halt. I dare to say to my hon. Friend that Government Members should not be so relaxed as to not make a fuss about this. We should be passionate about getting the will of the British people through, both in Committee and on the Floor of the House. We should be passionate about the Government getting their business done, with the will of the people as expressed in the referendum reflected, and that is what the motion seeks to do.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset 9:58 pm, 12th September 2017

This is not some great constitutional crisis; it is within the thread of our constitution. The great Duke of Wellington’s guiding constitutional principle was that the King’s Government must be carried on. In older age, he changed it to the Queen’s Government. That is the situation today. Since 1881, when, Mr Speaker, your illustrious predecessor, Speaker Brand, brought debate to a close, it has been recognised that the rules of the House must ensure that business can be proceeded with efficiently. That has been put into Standing Orders, and Standing Orders have been consistently amended and altered, suspended or changed, to ensure that the Government of the day can get their business through. It is very straightforward: if the Government of the day do not command a majority, a vote of no confidence is tabled and the Government fall. That is the fundamental principle of our constitution.

After that, what we are dealing with is purely administrative, not highfalutin constitutionalism. We know, because the Queen’s Speech was carried, that in the House there is a majority for the Government’s programme. It is therefore legitimate for the motion for an amendment to Standing Orders to be passed tonight, to ensure that that which has already been established on the Floor of the House applies in Committee.

The absurdity of the Opposition’s position is that the Committee of Selection, when there is an odd number on a Committee, should always give that odd number so that the Government can be defeated. How does that represent either the result of the general election or the combination of seats in the House? It is clear that with an odd number, the majority must belong to the governing side, with the support of our friends in the Democratic Unionist party who voted for the Queen’s Speech.

When the numbers are even, the result in the Bill Committee will of course be determined by the vote of the Chairman, who, by convention, will vote for no change. That will mean no change in the Bill passed on the Floor of the House, which will mean that both Government and Opposition amendments will fail in Committee if it is even-numbered, and will be tabled again on Report. Any Bill must have been presented by a Government who have a majority, and who have not been overturned by a vote of no confidence. It must be the case that the Bill has been given a Second Reading, and therefore, in principle, commands a majority in the House. On Report, any changes made in Committee can be overturned, so if we lose the support of our friends in the Democratic Unionist party, any proposal that is disliked can be stopped. Then there is the final stage, Third Reading. At every stage, the will of the House will be respected.

The speech, of great elegance, that was made by Valerie Vaz, and the speech—of equal elegance—that was made by Pete Wishart, had the great virtue of enormous and gloriously synthetic anger. Their fundamental good nature shone through. We saw that they knew that if they were in the Government’s position, exactly the same motion would be before the House. We know that in 1976, such a motion was snuck before the House on a quiet Friday when no one would notice. There is tradition for this; there is precedent for this; and it is the right thing for the party, the House, the Government and the nation.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North 10:03 pm, 12th September 2017

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. My contribution will be very short, but hopefully mildly insightful, because I think I know why Valerie Vaz did not take any interventions during her speech.

I am familiar with the hon. Lady’s constituency. We are constituency neighbours, and I frequently make incursions across the border, either for a curry or a pint, or to deliver leaflets. [Laughter] I often take the opportunity to speak to her constituents—I do not think I need to declare that to her before I nip over there for a pint—and I know that they will be utterly bewildered by what is going on this evening. They know, when they look at the TV, that we have a Conservative Prime Minister. They know that when they voted in the referendum, they voted for Brexit. They are looking at this Chamber and thinking, “Come on, chaps, just get on with it!” The hon. Lady knows full well that if she were to go back to Darlaston and explain this evening’s proceedings, they would say, “You are bonkers. Just get on with the job: that is why we elected you.”

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills 10:05 pm, 12th September 2017

How on earth do I follow the contribution of my constituency neighbour? I will do it my way.

We just need to remind ourselves of one or two things. In the 2016 referendum, the majority of the British public voted to exit the EU. In June this year, we had a general election, and we have a Conservative Prime Minister; the Conservative party won the general election with 318 seats, 56 more than on the Labour Benches. The Queen’s Speech has already been passed, setting out the legitimacy and programme of this Government. My constituents are probably equally bewildered by what is going on this evening, but I am fairly certain of one thing: they want us to get on with the job of being in government and delivering Brexit, but also delivering for our country.

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

I am going to continue because the hour is late, and I hope another Member or so will have a chance to make a small contribution.

We have a working majority in this House, and for me and those on our side of the House, a working majority on a Committee is a logical extension of that, so I will be backing the Leader of the House this evening. I will be backing the Government because I want to deliver for my constituency.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Conservative, Corby 10:06 pm, 12th September 2017

Mr Speaker, I just want to make a number of very pithy points.

First, I am infuriated by the argument that the Government do not have a working majority. We should look at the numbers. On Wednesday 6 September, 317 votes played 276, 320 played 287, and 320 played 249; yesterday, 318 played 296, 326 played 290, and 318 played 301; and tonight we won the last vote by 21 votes.

I sat on a number of Committees of different sorts in the last Parliament, and I can reveal that a number of Members opposite very regularly did not turn up, and not many of them spoke. So the baulking that we hear tonight rings very hollow with me. I tried to intervene on the shadow Leader of the House and would be delighted if she were to tell me that Members opposite were turning over a new leaf and were going to turn up and participate, because that would be good for our democracy and for the quality of scrutiny in this House.

We will do a disservice if we do not carry through on this tonight. I heard a Labour Whip last week complain about the fact that we have not made sufficient progress on Brexit. The bottom line is we cannot have it both ways. The fact here is that this is not unprecedented, so let us test the will of the House tonight.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham 10:08 pm, 12th September 2017

I will confine myself to some brief observations. I enjoyed very much the excellent speech of my hon. Friend Eddie Hughes, but it is interesting that back in 1976 there was a Labour Member for Walsall North, and he was called John Stonehouse. People may recall that, having been exposed as a Czech spy and having tried to fake his own death, he then crossed the Floor and defected from the Labour party. At the point when he did so, Labour lost its majority. But interestingly, at that point, Labour did precisely the same as now: the then Leader of the House, Mr Hugh Delargy, noted that the Labour party had a majority of 39 over the Conservatives, and in seeking to justify his position further he said:

“Combining those parties”— the opposition parties—

“as though they were one united group is wrong…and saying they are a united Opposition is simply a wild and crashing confusion of thought.”—[Official Report, 3 May 1976;
Vol. 910, c. 985.]

So it is a wild and crashing confusion of thought to suggest that this Government do not have a working majority today, because it has been eloquently demonstrated time and again that they do. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, because if this motion does not pass, we will know. My constituents and constituents from around the country will find it odd indeed if the Government have a majority on the ground floor of this Parliament, but somehow loses it on the first floor. They would perceive that as perverse and illogical. Finally, there is a democratic longstop on Report, when the Opposition can reverse everything, so this is sound and fury that ultimately signifies nothing.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney 10:10 pm, 12th September 2017

Let us be quite clear about one or two things. First, contrary to what has been said, it is quite clear that the Conservative party did not lose the election. With 56 more seats than the Labour party, the Conservative party quite clearly won the election. Secondly, while the Conservative party does not command an overall majority on its own, the Government quite clearly command the confidence of the House with a majority. That being the case, the people of this country expect the Government to be able to govern and to carry out its legislative programme. They also expect constructive and sensible Opposition from the Labour party, but that is not what they are seeing tonight. It is a party that has decided above all—

Two hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the Business of the House (Today) motion, the Speaker put the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Order, this day).

Amendment proposed: (a), Leave out part B.— (Mr Alistair Carmichael.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The House divided:

Ayes 300, Noes 320.

Division number 17

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Aye

No

Question accordingly negatived.

Main question put.

The House divided:

Ayes 320, Noes 301.

Division number 18

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Aye

No

Question accordingly agreed to.

Ordered,

That notwithstanding the practice of the House in the nomination of Members to committees, the following orders shall have effect for the duration of the present Parliament:

A: SELECTION COMMITTEE

(1) There shall be a select committee, to be known as the Selection Committee, to discharge the functions of nomination to committees provided for in the Standing Orders of the House relating to public business and to carry out the functions set out in or by virtue of the provisions of this order.

(2) The Committee shall consist of nine Members, of whom three shall be a quorum.

(3) Mr Alan Campbell, David Evennett, Patrick Grady, Andrew Griffiths, Jessica Morden, Christopher Pincher, Julian Smith, Mark Tami and Bill Wiggin shall be members of the Committee.

(4) The Committee appointed under this order shall be regarded as the Committee of Selection for the purposes of motions for nomination of select committees under 15 paragraph(2)(b)(ii) of Standing Order No. 121 (Nomination of select committees).

(5) The Committee shall have the power of nomination to and discharge from general committees provided for in Standing Order No. 86 (Nomination of general committees).

(6) The Committee shall observe the conditions on nominations of public bill committees on a private Member’s bill set out in Standing Order No. 84A (Public bill committees).

(7) The Committee shall have the power to nominate members to European Committees in Standing Order No. 119 (European Committees).

(8) The Committee shall have the power of nomination and discharge of members as provided for in Standing Order No. 92 (Consideration on report of certain bills by a general committee), Standing Order No. 102 (Welsh Grand Committee (composition and 25 business)), Standing Order No. 109 (Northern Ireland Grand Committee (composition and business)) and Standing Order No. 117 (Regional Affairs Committee).

(9) The Committee shall have the power of appointment provided for in, or by virtue of, paragraph (8)(a) of Standing Order No. 83J (Certification of bills etc. as relating exclusively to England or England and Wales and being within devolved legislative 30 competence), paragraph (4) of Standing Order No. 83P (Certification of instruments) and paragraph (6) of Standing Order No. 83U (Certification of motions upon which a Finance Bill is to be brought in, etc.) of two members of the Panel of Chairs to assist the Speaker in certifications.

(10) The Committee shall have powers to send for persons, papers and records in the 35 execution of its duties.

(11) The provisions of Private Business Standing Orders shall apply to the Committee established under this order as if the Committee were the Committee of Selection established under Standing Order 109 of those Standing Orders; and each reference to the Committee of Selection in those Standing Orders shall be taken as a reference to the Committee established under this order.

B. SELECTION COMMITTEE (NOMINATION TO GENERAL COMMITTEES)

The Selection Committee shall interpret paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 86 (Nomination of general committees) in such a way that where a committee has an odd number of members the Government shall have a majority, and where a committee has an even number of members the number of Government and Opposition members shall be equal; but this instruction shall not apply to the nomination of any public bill committee to which the proviso in sub-paragraph (iv) of that paragraph applies.

C: POSITIONS FOR WHICH ADDITIONAL SALARIES ARE PAYABLE FOR THE PURPOSES OF SECTION 4A(2) OF THE PARLIAMENTARY STANDARDS ACT 2009

The Chair of the committee established under part A of this order shall, for the period that part A of this order has effect, be a position specified for the purposes of section 4A(2) of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, subject to paragraphs (2) to (4) of the resolution of the House of 19 March 2013 (Positions for which additional salaries are payable for the purposes of Section 4A(2) of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009) which apply as if that position were referred to in paragraph (1)(a) of that resolution; and, for that period, the chair of the Committee of Selection shall not be a position so specified.

D: NOMINATION OF PROGRAMMING COMMITTEES

The Speaker shall interpret paragraph (2)(b) of Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) in such a way that the number of Government and Opposition members nominated to each such committee shall be equal.

E: NOMINATION OF PROGRAMMING SUB-COMMITTEES

The Speaker shall interpret paragraph (3)(b) of Standing Order No. 83C (Programming sub-committees) in such a way that the Government shall have a majority of the 65 members nominated to each such committee.

F: NOMINATION OF REASONS COMMITTEES

That, unless the House otherwise orders, the Government shall have a majority of the members nominated to each committee to draw up reasons.