Why has the Minister selected 2015 for the so-called sunset clause? My hon. Friends and I agree that a sunset clause is helpful: in the House, it is useful to give a specific time scale to much legislation because we do not return to it regularly enough to assess its impact. I have no problem with the principle. The Bill obviously has a natural life—or, at least, we hope that it has—and we hope that sufficient progress will be made to enable it to wither on the vine. However, I wonder whether 2015 is significant—perhaps it is when the Under-Secretary gets his bus pass, or he knows that the world will end that year. Whatever the reason, I would like to understand better the time scale involved.
The honest answer, in the secrecy of the Room, is that unless we get on with the job, we will not achieve that. I have been open at every stage—even with my party at conference—and I fear that we will not make such progress. That is why I support the Bill and believe that it will have to be used.
We must have a sense of urgency about the Bill. Our objective is 40 per cent., and once we reach that, we will be well on the way; momentum will have been achieved. My belief, and perhaps that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle, is that as more women come into this place, it becomes a more attractive place for women to come into. I think that the hon. Member for Maidenhead would agree that the mechanisms enabling women to come here will take account of that fact. All parties have hovered on the fringe of the matter for so long that we still find it difficult to make this place one that women aspire to join and in which they feel comfortable after joining. I said on Second Reading that I am disappointed that, having tasted the flavours of Westminster, quite a lot of women decide that it is not for them. We must take account of that.
I am not making a party political point—I am trying to ensure a real sense of urgency. As I also said on Second Reading, like Mr. Gladstone, I am an old man in a hurry. I remind the Minister, who made a crack about that on Second Reading, that Mr. Gladstone did not always win in his party: he was always ahead of, and rather more radical than his party. As he grew older, he became more radical, although the rest of his party did not necessarily do so.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way on a small point about my illustrious predecessor, who was also a Member of Parliament for Greenwich. I hope that our Government will, like him, grow even more successful and radical—although his party has rather been left behind in that regard.
Several commentators have said recently that the Liberal Democrats keep the Government to their radical tradition—a point with which some Labour Members would agree.
Time scales are extremely important. My mother will be 100 next week—it is in the blood; we Cornish are long living—and I would like to think that she will witness some progress on the issue. However, even for those with Cornish blood in their veins, there is a limit to longevity.
I shall ignore that suggestion as it would cause her, let alone me, some angst.
There must be some reason for choosing 2015. Although there were one or two sedentary and other interventions on Second Reading that implied that a small minority oppose the Bill, most hon. Members, including members of the Committee, believe that it contains essential proposals. As was rightly said, it provides a framework for parties to develop their own positive measures to resolve what is commonly accepted as a problem. At this stage, I do not think that a date of 14 years hence provides the necessary sense of immediacy and urgency, and I should be grateful if the Under-Secretary would explain his thinking.
There are several ways in which we could speculate about the year 2015. Given the hon. Gentleman's comments, 2015 will be the year in which he will be so radical that he will disappear off the end of the political spectrum. It will also be the year in which I receive my bus pass and will no longer be eligible for the parliamentary football team. [Interruption.] There is heckling from a sedentary position about my qualities, which I shall ignore.
When one includes a sunset clause, one must take a decision that is, to some extent, arbitrary about the time of sunset. Of course, by 2015 at least three elections will have taken place.
I anticipated that the Under-Secretary would advance that argument, but it strikes me as a peculiar one. By my calculation, if this and each succeeding Parliament runs full term, we will reach August 2016.
Indeed. He, as an academic, made the point that the Bill will apply to three parliamentary elections, yet it is clearly possible that it will not—unless, that is, he knows something that we do not about the length of this Parliament.
I am sorry that members of the Committee intervened on me before I had an opportunity fully to expand the detail of the argument. The hon. Members for South Cambridgeshire and for Maidenhead are theoretically correct to say that it is possible that three elections would not have taken place by 2015. However, there is only a small chance of having successive Prime Ministers who are so concerned about calling the date of the election that they act like Mr. Major and cling on to office until the very last month that is theoretically possible—indeed, I believe that it was a month longer than that. I said that by 2015, at least three elections will have taken place, and I am confident that that will prove to be so. The alternative would be to stipulate 2015 and six months, 2015 and nine months, or whatever.
As I said to the hon. Member for North Cornwall, the choice of 2015 must, to some extent, be arbitrary. In the normal course of events, if Parliaments run true to form—as did almost every Parliament during the previous century, except that which ended with the 1997 election—at least three elections will have taken place for each body in the UK between the time at which the provisions are likely to come into force and 2015. It is therefore a reasonable choice for the sunset clause, although one could argue for or against any year. A period is required for parties to put their processes into place and allow them to work through the party machinery. By the end of it, through the effluxion of time, various people will have been replaced in their posts. Thereafter, it should be possible to take an informed view on whether the provisions should continue to apply. That is the purpose of a sunset clause.
Clause 3 allows the provisions to remain in place if a statutory instrument following the affirmative procedure is laid before each House for approval. If the Minister who reviews the position decides that the provisions should continue to apply, he will have to justify that to Parliament. That is important, and makes the Bill focused and targeted. Although 2015 is a long way away, it provides a target for parties to work towards and an opportunity for the House to assess whether the provisions are still appropriate.
I hope that members of the Committee will support the clause on the basis that it is good legislation to ensure, wherever possible, that the House is able to extinguish an Act that is no longer considered important to the workings of the country.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Question proposed, That the Chairman do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.
The Committee stage has been short but effective. At the start of our proceedings, we heard some bogus indignation from Opposition Members about the programme motion, but we have demonstrated that the time made available for the Committee was more than adequate. We have been able to consider all the issues raised by Opposition and Government Members, and have satisfied ourselves that the Bill meets a real need and will make a real difference. There has been a general spirit of agreement. While those outside the House grow accustomed to confrontational proceedings, we have experienced the benefits of constructive scrutiny, albeit in relatively small doses.
As the Minister who steered the Greater London Authority Bill through Committee, I found our proceedings refreshing. When winding up the Homes Bill in the previous Parliament, I observed that it was welcome to take a measure through Committee in weeks rather than months. I did not think that I would so soon be saying how welcome it is to take a Bill through Committee in days rather than weeks. I hope that the precedent will be followed many times in the months ahead.
Many important points have been raised, and many more, no doubt, will be made when the Bill reaches another place. The points have been serious, but the central purpose of the Bill, which received such broad support on Second Reading, has been endorsed, and still commands that support after the scrutiny that we have given it on Tuesday and today.
I thank you, Mr. Amess, for your effective chairmanship of the Committee, and Mrs. Adams, who chaired proceedings on Tuesday. I thank all members of the Committee, the officials who have provided support, the Clerk, Hansard and the police.
It was nearly 1,000 amendments. I was being generous to the Minister. His two technical amendments to the Bill are a record in the other direction for him. We are grateful for that.
We have had a constructive debate, because there is a broad consensus on the Bill's principles and aims. We therefore tabled amendments with the intention of being constructive and improving the Bill, not opposing its aims.
I associate myself with the thanks that the Minister offered to the Clerk, other officers of the House and all those who have ministered to us in our proceedings, although they have been short. I offer my thanks to Mrs. Adams and to you, Mr. Amess, for your chairmanship of the Committee, short though that has been. I especially thank my hon. Friends who have contributed to the debate: the Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham, who has had to leave, and my hon. Friends the Members for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) and for South Cambridgeshire, who have teased out some interesting points.
I end by sending, as I am sure do all members of the Committee, very best wishes to the mother of the hon. Member for North Cornwall for her 100th birthday next week.
I thank the hon. Lady for that last remark. I endorse and repeat the thanks that have been offered to the team that has made this a happy Committee. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle that not every Committee is as amicable, constructive and consensual, but that she has had the best of baptisms.
I endorse the Minister's comments on programme motions. They are not always applicable, but it is important for this place to make better use of our time, not least because that enables Opposition parties to concentrate on the issues that most concern them rather than being at the mercy of the Government, with their large majority, pushing through an imposed guillotine. That applies both on the Floor of the House and in Committee. I am glad that, in this case, it worked so well.
Throughout our proceedings, we have rightly laid emphasis on outcomes. The process is not important, but achievement is, and that applies to all parties although we go about it in different ways. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. I fear that that is not always the case with legislation, but I hope that the Minister and the Under-Secretary are right to be optimistic. I note that the Under-Secretary has a distinguished academic role in developing constitutional procedures in a—dare I use the word—federal way, and he has considered the issue in the context of other countries. I hope that in the near future he will be able to persuade his colleagues to allow him to develop new bodies to which the measure will apply—not least, of course, a regional assembly for Cornwall.
I thank all those who have spoken for their kind and generous remarks. It has been a pleasure partly to preside over these historic and important proceedings. I join with others in thanking all those who have assisted in our work. Most of all I should like to thank the Clerk, without whose wisdom the proceedings would have been the poorer.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill, as amended, to be reported.
Committee rose at four minutes to Eleven o'clock.