Clause 8 - Scotland

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 7 March 2006.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence) 12:00, 7 March 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 67, in clause 8, page 4, line 32, after ‘(4)’, insert

‘and pursuant to a resolution of the Scottish Parliament’.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 68, in clause 9, page 4, leave out line 40.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence)

The clause generally precludes the possibility of making orders under the Bill that fall within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, apart from those made under clause 2(4), which will be orders that

“make such consequential, supplementary, incidental or transitional provision ... as the Minister making it considers appropriate.”

To what extent does the Minister feel that the Sewel convention, with which I am sure he is familiar, should relate to orders under clause 2(4)?

For those who are not familiar with it, the Sewel convention effectively says that the Westminster Parliament will not legislate on matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament, even where it has the power to do so, unless the Scottish Parliament gives its consent. It is an agreement not between Parliaments but between the Scottish Executive and the UK Government, but it has typically been held to. Does the Minister propose that it should apply under section 2(4)? If not, what are his reasons? The Sewel convention is not set out in statute, but will he set out why he feels that it does not apply under clause 2(4)?

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

Are we considering amendments Nos. 67 and 68?

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour, Edmonton

I also seek clarification, Mr. Caton. Amendment No. 68 refers to clause 9, which is separate from clause 8.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

This is not the first time that the Committee has considered amendments that deal with different parts of the Bill in common debate. Clearly, we cannot vote on the amendments except when we are dealing with the appropriate clause, but we can debate both amendments Nos. 67 and 68 now. When we come to the voting, we will do it in the proper procedural order. There will also be a clause stand part debate on clause 9.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence)

In that case, I shall say a word or two about amendment No. 68 to clause 9, which refers to the Welsh Assembly. Because it would be a significant constitutional change, the clause as drafted rightly states:

“An order under section 1 may not make any provision—

(a) conferring a function on the Assembly,

(b) modifying or removing a function ... or

(c) restating any provision ... except with the agreement of the Assembly.”

That means, in effect, that if the Assembly agrees that it wants lots more powers or wants to change significantly the powers that it already has, the Minister could use an order to make those changes. That seems rather strange. The recent Government of Wales Bill was considered a significant constitutional measure and was therefore taken at length on the Floor of the House. It is odd that if, under the clause as drafted, the Assembly decided that it wanted lots of powers or to change them, the Minister by order could make such changes, when we have just decided that such changes need to be discussed at length on the Floor of the House because they are significant constitutional changes. Amendment No. 68 would leave out line 40, which would get rid of the provision that states that if the Assembly agrees, the Bill can be used to make the orders. The clause, as amended, would then make it clear that orders under clause 1 could not change the scope of the Welsh Assembly’s powers. That would be a significant, and necessary, change to the Bill.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Mine is more a stand part point. If we are to have a separate debate on clause 8 stand part, I will reserve my remarks until then.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

There will be a separate debate.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

I think I know where we are, Mr. Caton—Committee Room 12. On clause 8 stand part and our discussion on amendments Nos. 67 and 68, clause 8 places a restriction on what orders can do in relation to Scotland.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

Order. Forgive me, but we are not debating clause stand part. There will be a separate debate on clause 8 stand part and, indeed, on clause 9 stand part. The debate is specifically on amendments Nos. 67 and 68.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

Thank you for that helpful steer, Mr. Caton. I think I am the only Scot here, except for my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South   Perthshire (Gordon Banks). I do not know whether there are any Welsh Members on the Committee, but I will obviously accept interventions from my hon. Friend, partly because his constituency is a lot closer to the Scottish Parliament than mine.

Clause 8 places restrictions on what orders can do in relation to Scotland. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire and others tabled amendment No. 67, which I suspect is a probing amendment. I confirm that we would consult with the Scottish Executive if we sought to make—

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence)

If I could make a helpful intervention, amendment No. 67 would put the civil convention in the Bill. It was tabled to discover why the general prohibition on using powers under the Bill that affected devolved areas did not apply to the powers under clause 2(4) when they apply to the rest of the Bill.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

That is helpful. As the hon. Gentleman knows clause 8 provides that an order may not make provision which is within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. It reflects the usual position in relation to Scottish devolution, whereby it is for the Scottish Parliament to legislate on devolved matters. The exception, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is set out in clause 2(4), which enables a Minister to make such consequential, supplementary, incidental or transitional provision as he considers appropriate. There is no restriction on making such a provision in relation to Scottish legislation or to Westminster legislation within the competence of the Scottish Parliament.

An example of when the ability to make such a provision would be helpful is when an order restates a piece of Westminster legislation to simplify it and, in doing so, renumbers some of the provisions. If a Scottish Act cross-referred to those provisions, the changes to the numbering made by the order would mean that the Scottish Act referred to the wrong provisions. However, the order itself could be used to tidy up the Scottish Act by updating the references in the Act, so that they referred to the correct provisions. It would mean that there was no need for the Scottish Parliament itself to legislate to bring about the consequential amendments that were needed. That position has been agreed with the Scottish Executive. If, however, at any point we sought to make such orders, there would be further consultation with the Scottish Executive.

The situation reflects the devolution settlement as well as the position under the 2001 Act. The Committee may wish to know that matters are set out in devolution guidance note 10 from the Department for Constitutional Affairs. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that there would be continued consultation between the United Kingdom Government Department and the Scottish Executive. We believe that there would not be a need for a separate motion of the Scottish Parliament for the consequential tidy-up to which I have alluded. That has been agreed with Ministers in the Scottish Parliament.

I turn now to amendment No. 68. The provisions of the Bill for Wales are broadly similar to the powers of the 2001 Act. The amendment would mean that an order could not confer, modify or restate a function of the Assembly. Clause 9 makes it clear that, in all the situations listed, the Assembly’s agreement must first be obtained. However, as well as obtaining the Assembly’s agreement to proposals, all the other safeguards apply to an order that affects the Assembly’s functions. Additionally, the preconditions and the procedural protections that we have already talked about in some detail—it is almost as though they are repeated in each clause stand part debate—in connection with statutory public consultations, relevant Select Committees and the principle of a right to a veto would also be in place. Accepting the amendment would prevent orders from doing what orders under the 2001 Act can currently do, and that is clearly unacceptable.

Line 40 of the clause, to which amendment No. 68 refers, means that the Welsh Assembly’s permission would be sought in advance of conferring on it new powers or responsibilities. The amendment is unnecessary. We shall respect the devolution settlement, which is set out in devolution guidance note 10 of the DCA. Amendment No. 68 would prevent us from seeking the Assembly’s agreement for conferring on it additional responsibilities. I urge the hon. Member for Forest of Dean to withdraw his amendment on the basis of my comments.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence) 12:15, 7 March 2006

Amendment No. 67 was very much a probing amendment. The Minister has made the Government’s position clear. I shall not press the amendment to a Division.

I am still not clear about clause 9. One of the reasons for the repetition is that we are not convinced that the protections and procedures under the Bill are adequate. Agreement has been reached between the Front Benches that there will be discussions about the veto powers, but the difficulty is that, because they have not taken place in Committee, it is still necessary for us to repeat such matters at each stage that we are worried about because we have not reached agreements. If agreements had been made earlier, we would not need to have repetitive discussions. The flaw is that, if the Assembly agrees, the Bill enables the Minister to make significant changes. He is right, if one reads and agrees with his interpretation of the preconditions in the procedural safeguards. If one does not agree with it, and we have our concerns, the Bill without our amendment allows significant constitutional changes to be made. Having said that and given that the Minister said that we shall discuss the veto powers—there is always the option of tabling further amendments on Report if those discussions are unsuccessful—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I wonder whether the Minister can help us. Clause 8 envisages making legislation outwith the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, using the accelerated procedures outlined in the Bill. I cannot understand in what circumstances the Government should wish to use those procedures, when they have already accepted that it would be wrong to delegate such actions to the legislative independence that is part of the Scottish devolution settlement. If we cannot trust the Scottish Parliament to deal with it, why should we trust ministerial edict rather than the full UK parliamentary procedure with primary legislation? I would be grateful if the Minister could give some examples of where he thinks that the provisions in the Bill will be used for legislation that is outwith the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.

The Regulatory Reform Committee produced a helpful checklist on page 20 of its report. It said that specific limits on the powers of the Scottish Parliament are set out in statute. The Committee’s argument, which I support and which is the subject of a Liberal Democrat amendment, is that there should be exemptions in which the Bill should not operate.

In summary, the only limits on the powers of the Scottish Parliament and Executive is that they

“cannot enact provisions incompatible with the European convention on human rights or modify the Human Rights Act 1998; they cannot enact provisions incompatible with European Community law ... ; they cannot legislate in respect of the Crown; they cannot legislate in respect of Parliament; they cannot legislate in respect of the Union of Scotland and England; they cannot legislate in respect of the senior Scottish courts; they cannot legislate in respect of the registration and funding of political parties; they cannot legislate in respect of international relations; they cannot legislate in respect of the civil service; they cannot legislate in respect of defence; they cannot legislate in respect of treason.”

If the Scottish Parliament cannot do that, in what circumstances does the Minister think that the UK Parliament should be able to do that using the powers in the Bill? As one would say if one were a university lecturer, “Please give examples with your answer.”

Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I shall add to the hon. Gentleman’s points an additional point that brings us back to a point that we made previously: since the Bill can apply to the Scotland Act 1998, the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament can be changed by order under this Bill. Although the Minister will say that it is a controversial matter, that it will not be brought forward under the Bill and that there are protections in the Bill against it, it is still a serious aspect of the debate about the Bill’s powers and those that it gives Ministers. The Bill allows structural change by that mechanism.

My only other point, which I could easily make under clauses 8 or 9 is a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) was going to make. Unfortunately, he cannot be present   for this part of the debate. Why are there clauses about Scotland and Wales, but none about Northern Ireland? Is that a gap in the Bill that the Government intend to fill on Report?

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

The hon. Member for Cambridge asked me about the ability to change the Scotland Act by order. I live in Scotland for three days of the week and for all of the summer when this place is in recess. The idea that we could make any meaningful change to the Scotland Act by order without it being entirely controversial is an interesting assertion. As I said, clause 8 allows us to make consequential, supplementary, incidental or transitional amendments to Acts of the Scottish Parliament. For example, Acts of the Scottish Parliament refer to UK legislation from time to time by way of referencing and numbering. If there were a change to UK legislation, the clause would allow a consequential tidy-up by renumbering and referencing changes to such Acts. That is important, because Acts of the Scottish Parliament would otherwise be incorrectly referenced. The provision will create a minimum of confusion and is an important tidy-up and protection.

The idea that we should have a separate motion of the Scottish Parliament whereby all 129 of its Members would be asked to vote on consequential amendments on referencing and numbering is not an appropriate way to go. The Scottish Executive have not requested it, and I am not aware of the Scottish Parliament having requested it either. The clause represents a sensible way to progress with consequential amendments and tidy-ups.

On the point made by the hon. Member for Cambridge, I am advised that clause 1(3) excludes Northern Ireland legislation.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The Minister has addressed his remarks to clause 2(4), which relates to matters within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. Clause 8 will enable the Government to legislate on such matters where they are pursuant to clause 2(4). My question was about matters that are not within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. I asked the Minister whether he could give a specific example of such matters that he envisages legislating on using the powers in the Bill.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman—I should, of course, have addressed his point. An example of legislation outwith the competence of the Scottish Parliament is that the Bill could enable the implementation of the recommendations in the joint report by the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission on the Third Parties (Rights Against Insurers) Act 1930. That would be an example of the order-making processes mentioned on page 19 of the explanatory notes to the Bill. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister 12:30, 7 March 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 52, in clause 10, page 5, line 12, at end add—

‘(3)A Minister may not make an order under section 1 where, within the 21 day period, fifty members of the House of Commons signify to the Speaker in writing that they object to the use of this Act to make the order.’.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 53, in clause 10, page 5, line 12, at end add—

‘(4)A Minister may not make an order under section 1 where, within the 21 day period, either House of Parliament resolves that it objects to the use of this Act to make the order.’.

No. 54, in clause 10, page 5, line 12, at end add—

‘(5)A Minister may not make an order under section 1 where, within the 21 day period, a committee of the House of Commons charged with reporting on the order resolves that it objects to the use of this Act to make the order.’.

Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

We now come to the third way in which the Bill can be restricted so as to become less dangerous.

We have already looked at attempting to restrict the Bill in terms of the potential purposes of orders that could be made, and the Government have resisted every such attempt. We also discussed—at great length—subject-matter restrictions, whereby the Bill could not be used to change particular areas of law or particular statutes. With the possible exception of matters concerning the Law Commission that we have discussed this morning, the Government have been unwilling to accept any substantial change of that type. That leaves only procedural protections.

The Minister has already indicated that he is prepared to negotiate on what has been called the Committee veto, which is the idea that a Committee of the House could somehow reject an order made under the Bill. Amendment No. 54 is a possible draft of such a Committee veto, and I am interested to hear the Minister’s view of the proposal.

First, it says:

“A Minister may not make a order under section 1 where, within the 21 day period, a committee of the House of Commons ... resolves that it objects to the use of this Act” for a certain purpose.

The reason that it refers to the power of the Minister is to make it very clear that we are talking about what Ministers, not Parliament, can do. In turn, that would make it clear to the courts that they would be empowered to intervene in such a case.

Secondly, the amendment refers to

“ a committee of the House, charged with reporting on the order”.

That leaves open how the House carries out the task, because I do not think that it is appropriate for legislation to instruct the House of Commons on how to organise itself internally, and in the amendment we have striven to avoid that as far as possible. I should appreciate the Minister’s thoughts on how best to proceed with such an amendment.

The third element of the amendment is that the resolution would be one whereby the Committee

“objects to the use of the Act to make the order.”

That is, it would not necessarily have to object to the substance, but it would be objecting on the grounds that the proposal should be the subject of primary legislation rather than statutory instrument. That is the fundamental issue—how things are done, rather than just what they are. Our fundamental objection to the way that the Bill works is that it allows too many changes to legislation to be brought in by statutory instrument rather than primary legislation. The Committee of the House would be invited to make a judgment on that issue.

Amendment No. 53 addresses an obvious gap in the way in which the Bill currently works—the fact that the House itself cannot resolve that the Bill should not be used for a particular order. Throughout the debate the Minister has talked about Committee vetoes and rejections of proposals by Committee, but so far not only has that not been in the Bill, but the power of the House to reject has not been in the Bill either.

The lead amendment, amendment No. 52, goes some way beyond what the Minister has agreed so far, and in many ways is the crucial amendment in the group. The problem with a Committee veto is that Committees of this House reflect the state of the House itself, and therefore every Committee has a majority of Government Members. It is true that Committees of the House tend on some occasions to act in a more considered way than the House itself, and it might be easier to persuade Committee members to reject a proposal than to persuade the House as a whole.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour, Edmonton

In amendment No. 52, the hon. Gentleman uses the number of 50 Members. I can see why 50 would be an appropriate figure when compared with the number of Liberal Democrat Members of the House, but can he give some constitutional precedent for his use of that number?

Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I am prepared to talk to Committee members from all parties about what that number should be. One possible way forward is to say that it should be 10 per cent. of the number of Members of the House, which would make it 65 if we round up rather than down. The number that I am putting forward is well in excess of the number suggested by the hon. Member for Christchurch in his definition of “controversial”, which said that it would be enough if any Member objected. The number 50 is a pretty large concession to begin with.

One problem is the built-in Government majority on any Committee. The other problems are the ease with which Committee membership can be changed and the influence of the Government Whips on that membership. The hon. Member for Christchurch has referred to the absence from this Committee of the very distinguished hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), which illustrates the power of the Whips in Committee selection. The Committee   veto is far from an absolute guarantee that the powers in the Bill will not be used in what Opposition Members consider to be an inappropriate way.

In addition, the long-term nature of Select Committees might be a problem if they become part of the legislative process. Select Committees work in a largely consensual way, focusing on the topic to be discussed rather than the political positions of the parties within the Committee. If the Select Committees became a regular part of the legislative process, it would attract the attention of the Government Whips in a way that would be detrimental to how Select Committees work, and might even be the end of the Select Committee system as we have come to know it. It would make Select Committees into versions of Standing Committees, which would be an undesirable development.

Amendment No. 52 would cure those defects in the proposed Committee veto. The method is familiar in many walks of life from local government to company law: giving a certain number of members of the institution the collective power to halt a particular process. We are not proposing that 50 Members of the House—or whatever number of Members we might eventually agree—should be able to prevent legislation from passing. We are simply proposing that a certain number of Members should be able to object to legislation by statutory instrument under the Bill. That would provide the sort of guarantee that we have been looking for.

The amendment would avoid another problem: the consensus of the Front Benches. During my short time in the House, I have observed quite often that the “usual channels”—marvellous not to behold—achieve a great number of things. They work towards the smooth working of the institution, but they sometimes do things that are not necessarily in line with the view of Back Benchers, either on the Government side or in the Opposition parties. The mechanism in the amendment would put real power in the hands of Back Benchers, which would be a useful development in itself. It would change the relationship between the Front and Back Benches in all parties.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour, Edmonton

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kindness in giving way. His approach is entirely too pessimistic. In the previous Parliament, there was a form of what I would call quasi-pre-legislative scrutiny in which, because of the onerous consultations and other mechanisms that had to be undertaken, Departments would speak to the Regulatory Reform Committee before any proposal was introduced. There was an opportunity for the Committee to take a view as to whether it would be an appropriate order to introduce. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there are informal mechanisms that will protect against his worries?

Photo of David Howarth David Howarth Shadow Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. That is the way it has worked so far, given the terms of the 2001 Act. However, the problem we keep returning to is that the terms of the Bill are so much more extensive than those of the 2001 Act that we require more formal, on-the-face-of-the-Bill   protection. Informal agreements have no legal effect. If we are asked to accept assurances on the basis of trust, we have to accept that the problem with such an approach is that we have to trust the Government—not necessarily this one, but some Government in the future—not to act in a particular way. If they were to act in such a way and ignore the informal conventions on a particular occasion, the resulting instrument would have the force of law. We are trying to avoid that by writing into the Bill procedures to prevent the Government from claiming that the product of the process is as good as an Act of Parliament in circumstances where that should not be the case.

I want the Committee to include a kind of safeguard that would go a long way to reassure those of us in my party who are very disturbed indeed about the breadth of the Bill and the breadth of the purposes to which it could be put. Procedure, in the end, is only as good as the people involved in operating it. I accept that, and it would be better to have those other protections on purpose and subject-matter as well. Nevertheless, procedural protections are valuable in themselves and I recommend the amendment to the Committee.

Photo of Martin Caton Martin Caton Labour, Gower

This is another clause whose substance we can deal with during the debate on the amendments. I hope that we will not need a separate stand part debate. If any Member wants a stand part debate, could they please indicate that during any contribution that they make on the amendments?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Defence)

I would like to touch briefly on amendments Nos. 54 and 53. The hon. Member for Cambridge is right about amendment No. 54: the danger with putting all of the onus on Committees is that Committee membership is determined by Whips and can be influenced by them. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) is quite right to say that the procedure has worked well in the past, but, as we keep saying, the scope of the Bill is tremendously wider than the 2001 Act, so I do not think that the same protections will work. Amendment No. 53 has more substance in the sense that either House of Parliament can object to the use of the Act. That means that in the other place, where there is a significant number of Cross Benchers and the House is not as amenable to being guided, there might be more significant protection.

I am not entirely happy with the way that amendment No. 52 is drafted. I think that what the hon. Member for Cambridge is getting at is that the amendment is in lieu of the lack of a definition, on the face of the Bill, of what is controversial. The Minister has said on many occasions that the Bill would not be used to introduce controversial measures. The amendment says that the definition of a “controversial measure” is one to which more than 50 Members of the House of Commons object. That effectively is what the amendment says.

As has been said, that is a significant concession compared with the proposal by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, which was that if just one Member objected the measure would be   “controversial”. He made that proposal because local Acts fall within the powers under the Bill. As the Minister outlined in his letter on the definition of “local Acts”, that could incorporate legislation that only affects small parts of the country, and those could be issues about which only one Member was concerned.

The amendment would define controversy—if more than 50 Members of the House of Commons object, the measure would be deemed controversial. Alternatively, if the Minister does not accept the amendment—I suspect that he will not—we could put on the face of the Bill a definition, which could be discussed and agreed, of “controversial”. A definition on the face of the Bill of “controversial” and “non-controversial” would have the same substance as the amendment. Perhaps that would be a helpful way of looking at the issue.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 12:45, 7 March 2006

This is effectively the first stab that we have had at the issue of a veto. The Minister has said that he will come forward with some ideas that he will discuss with the Front Benches, but sadly not with all members of the Committee.

The Minister wants to discuss proposals for a veto. The hon. Member for Cambridge, who moved amendment No. 52, has had a go at that, and we should congratulate him on doing so—although he is willing to say that 50 might not be the right answer. I think that the idea inherent in his suggestion is probably the best way forward. Let us recall that there used to be a time when what we blandly call “statutory instruments” and “affirmative resolution instruments” were dealt with on the Floor of the House.

On the basis of those matters being dealt with upstairs in Standing Committee, not just the members of that Committee but other Members were allowed to come along and speak. However, it is almost unheard-of for the Government to be defeated on such statutory instruments, which shows what powerful tools they are in the hands of the Executive, and how much power was lost to ordinary Members of Parliament when that procedural change was made.

Here we are talking about areas in which the Government say, “Trust us because we are all in it together. We want to deregulate; we hate the administrative burden of bureaucracy and if the law is too complicated, let’s make it easier for people to understand, and reduce the costs and burden on business.” If that is the objective, and what legislation introduced under the Bill will generate, what is the problem? There will not be a problem because that Member or group of Members who get up and say that they want to block a piece of legislation—for some sort of procedural fun—will be made to look foolish in the eyes of the public.

Indeed, if they continued to do that for no good reason, the procedures might be changed, as has happened in the past. I am told that even at this very moment the Government, with all their talk about giving power to Parliament and Back Benchers, are thinking seriously about limiting the ability of Members of Parliament to table as many written parliamentary questions as they wish. I hope that the   Minister will tell us that the Government would never think of doing that and that the situation that I describe will not emerge, but I have it on quite good information that the Government may be actively talking about such a proposal. Where does that stand with the idea of trust and doing only those things that are non-controversial or “not highly controversial”, to use the Minister’s chosen phraseology?

If proposals are innocent and receive the support of the relevant scrutiny Committee, there will be no problem. However, if the Executive are given this draconian power and it is used, as we fear that it will be, to promote their will at the expense of parliamentary democracy and debate, it will be so much easier for the Government to bypass the process, and we heard earlier how trying the Minister finds debating points. If proposals are controversial, and 50 Members of Parliament—to take the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Cambridge—think that the scrutiny of them should be more intense, who is the Minister to say that it is unreasonable of those Members to seek to veto the process by which this democratic House of Commons considers those proposals? I therefore hope that he will tell us in due course that amendment No. 52 is the basis for introducing an effective veto into the Bill to give power back to Back Benchers—or at least reduce the amount that this procedure would take away—and to introduce important safeguards.

As the Minister will know, the full implications of legislation often become apparent only when it is subject to scrutiny. How many times have Government officials not realised the full implications of what they have written down? Even Parliamentary Counsel has drafted great big Bills, only for somebody to ask, “What are the implications of that? What does that mean?” and that has led to whole series of Government amendments. Even when legislation has been carefully considered by the Government and the counsel who drafted it, it is often defective and produced in a cavalier way.

If the Government are indeed going to resist amendment No. 52, why are they suggesting that we disregard 50 Members of Parliament who think that proposals should be subject to more scrutiny under the traditional primary legislation route? If the Government do indeed reject the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Cambridge, that would be thoroughly unreasonable.

As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Edmonton, my concern as regards the suppression of individual rights, is that we are often talking just about one case, which has been brought up by one Member of Parliament. If a constituent, group of constituents or town is adversely affected by a piece of legislation that is pushed through using the accelerated procedure before us, should a responsible Member of Parliament not have the opportunity to veto it or to have it vetoed by bringing other Members together?

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour, Edmonton

The hon. Gentleman’s comments made me think of an order that went through in the previous Parliament to end the last vestiges of the Sunday Observance Act 1780. One Member, or perhaps even 50 Members, might feel that that was inappropriate, but the overwhelming majority of Parliament might not. How do we ensure that in protecting Members’ rights we do not lose the essential business of Parliament?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Essentially, we ensure that measures are brought forward using the primary legislative route unless they are non-controversial. As we know, the Government could use the provisions of the Bill more or less to remove the need for any of the soft handout Bills that are given to those who are lucky enough to win the private Members’ ballot. Those Bills would no longer be necessary because they could be dealt with by the accelerated procedure. The Government might regret the demise of soft handout Bills and find it embarrassing to be confronted with much more controversial legislation on Fridays.

To deal with the hon. Gentleman’s point, he knows, as a veteran of debates on Fridays, that the fact that only one person has objections to a piece of legislation does not mean that they are in the wrong. Quite often, the points made in the debates on Fridays are responded to by the promoter of the Bill or the Government, and people realise that Parliament by definition contains a host of individuals with specialist knowledge of various subjects—not generalists, knowing about everything—who understand and know how to probe in relation to certain proposals. We know that the one or two Members who object to a piece of private Member’s legislation might be right.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour, Edmonton

I put it to the hon. Gentleman that if the Regulatory Reform Committee thought that one Member or 50 could veto the lengthy consultation and other necessary procedures that a Department has to go through to bring forward an order, all possibility of using that mechanism would in effect be ended.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

The hon. Gentleman’s suggestion prompts the question whether that lengthy consultation process has addressed the consultees’ concerns. So often we see the Government going through the process of consulting but not responding to the views that are expressed in that consultation. The hon. Gentleman is jumping to the conclusion that consultation alone is a necessary safeguard, but consultation is a safeguard only if the Government respond to it. What better way could there be of ensuring that they do respond than to have an effective veto, which is the substance of amendment No. 52? Such a veto would not come from one individual Member but 50 hon. Members and would have to be exercised pretty quickly. It would not be a veto on the substance of the legislation but on the process by which it could be put on the statute book. That seems a perfectly reasonable suggestion.

Amendment No. 53 is also an important safeguard, to which I hope that the Minister will respond positively. If we are talking about two Houses of Parliament, there is not much point in having the   accelerated procedure if it removes all rights from the other place to engage in debate on legislation that is brought forward under that procedure. We know that the powers that are being taken are so extensive that they could be used to have another go at aspects of legislation that the other place has already disapproved of. I hope that when we resume this afternoon the Minister will say that he thinks that the proposals are a good starting point for the veto process.

Photo of Jim Murphy Jim Murphy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Cabinet Office)

I take the opportunity to respond briefly to the debate on the clause so far. The hon. Member for Cambridge referred to the power of the   Front Bench. I erred by not welcoming on behalf of the Committee the hon. Member for Forest of Dean to his position on the Front Bench—I am not damning him by mentioning that, but congratulating him. He is a defence spokesman for the Conservative party, and we welcome him to his place and welcome the reasonable tone that he strikes from the Front Bench.

It being One o’clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at Four o’clock.