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Finance (No. 2) Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee at 2:23 pm on 25th April 2013.

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Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 2:23 pm, 25th April 2013

I have a statement to make. I gather that in the last Division, hon. Members thought that they were voting on whether amendment 1 should be withdrawn—[Hon. Members: “Absolutely!”]—not whether it should be made. I thought so, too. I am advised that it is not procedurally possible to vote on withdrawing an amendment, so I apologise to the Committee. I was not aware that that was not the procedure; I did not think it strange at the time. If any hon. Member objects, the amendment is not withdrawn and the Committee needs to decide whether to make it. I therefore propose to put the Question on amendment 1 again.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

On a point of order, Mr Amess. I appreciate that considerable efforts have been made to resolve this matter, but I think that it is important to have some clarity on the record and to understand the position. My understanding at the time of the vote was that we were indeed taking a view in Committee on whether the amendment would be withdrawn. I would then have anticipated that a proper vote would be taken.

I seek some clarity on this. I would be grateful for information from you in your role as Chair, Mr Amess, because if the vote was not constitutional per se and should not have been taken on that basis, does the vote stand? A subsequent decision was taken to approve the clause or to allow the clause to stand part of the Bill. Is that affected by any decision that is made at this point? Is it not the case that the Government would have the opportunity simply to amend the Bill at a later stage if it was their view that the decision taken by the Committee, however inadvertently, should not stand? I just seek some information from you, Mr Amess.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

I thank the hon. Lady for the points that she has made, which are entirely fair. Let me make it clear to the Committee again that I did think, mistakenly, that we were having the vote on the amendment being withdrawn. The Clerk has advised me that he knew what was happening, because he knew that we could not have a vote on the amendment being withdrawn, but obviously we cannot read one another’s minds. But as Chairman I am being honest with you —

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

Further to that point of order, Mr Amess.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

I must finish first.

Also, when it came to the next vote, I did not say “as amended”, which of course I should have done, according to some Members. I can only apologise to the Committee. Whether we were distracted by Divisions in the House, Prorogation or whatever was going on, I do not know, but I made a mistake. We all know the numbers on the Committee, so I say again that the most sensible thing to do would be to rerun the vote—as the hon. Lady has said. The record of this morning’s proceedings will stand, but as we go through the procedures now, obviously the record will show something slightly different.

Photo of Fiona O'Donnell Fiona O'Donnell Labour, East Lothian

Further to that point of order, Mr Amess. I understand that some Members are accusing me of being responsible for all the confusion, given an earlier intervention. I ask for guidance, Mr Amess. It has not been helpful that many Members were sitting here while discussions were taking place in private, and are not aware of what happened in those discussions. The Chair is fallible and makes mistakes. He is not able to read the mind of the Clerk—I absolutely appreciate that. A presumption has been made about what Members thought they were doing, but what happened, happened, and that is a matter of record. As someone who is new to this place, I would have thought that even if something happened unintentionally and mistakenly, it does not alter the fact that it happened. I am struggling to understand how we have got here.

Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Opposition Whip (Commons)

Further to that point of order, Mr Amess. I appreciate the way in which you made your remarks a few moments ago. To guide the Committee, can you tell us whether there is a precedent for rerunning a vote on an amendment in Committee? If the Government do not want the amendment to the Bill to remain, is not the neatest approach for them to move that it be taken out on Report?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands Assistant Whip (HM Treasury)

Further to that point of order, Mr Amess. There are three important points to make. First, the intention of the Committee, as expressed by you, is absolutely clear. The intention was that the amendment not be agreed to. That was reflected in the votes, with Opposition Members voting no and Government Members—both parties—voting yes. Secondly, when you announced the result of the vote—17 to 12—if the amendment had been carried, you would have said, “And therefore I declare the amendment carried” or “The amendment is thereby made.” Further, if the Opposition’s intention had been, as they now claim, that the amendment be agreed to, surely when you put the question that the clause stand part, you would have, and should have, said that the clause “as amended” be put to the Committee.

On all of those three occasions it was clear that the amendment, in the intention of the Committee and the intention of the Chairman, was not made. That was reflected in everything that happened thereafter. I think the intention of the Committee was clear. In the eyes of the Committee and in the eyes of the Chairman, the vote was clearly about whether the amendment be withdrawn. Therefore I think the Committee, wrongly as it turned out, thought that it was voting to withdraw the amendment, so now we should proceed to a vote on whether the amendment should be made.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour, Cardiff South and Penarth 2:30 pm, 25th April 2013

Further to that point of order, Mr Amess. I appreciate the sincerity with which you made your statement. I must refer to the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South about precedent. As another relatively new Member, I have learnt that the example of precedent is extremely important for future sittings. I, too, would be interested to know the examples of precedent that are being drawn on to make this decision, but also the possible consequences for future votes in Committees or in the House of us setting a new precedent. I would not want anything we do in this Committee inadvertently to have a negative impact on substantive and important decisions in future. I should appreciate your guidance on whether we are setting a dangerous new precedent here.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Labour, Middlesbrough

Further to that point of order, Mr Amess. I thank you for how you have addressed the matter thus far. Ultimately I see this quite simply. A question about the amendment was put to us and a vote was taken. We cannot be in the business of trying to rewrite that or putting an interpretation on it. The words are the words. If a mistake was made, with the greatest respect, it should have been identified at the time, rather than trying to unravel it now. We cannot go back in time. It is not a matter of coming back to a vote and saying, “Please keep going until you get the right outcome.” It would be like the Republic of Ireland dealing with the European Union. It would not be the right way to go about business. It has happened. We just have to deal with the consequences of that as it is. We cannot try to put an interpretation on what was meant by it all. It is what it is, Mr Amess, and I respectfully suggest that the matter should remain as it was conducted.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

Further to that point of order, Mr Amess, and to the points made by the hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham. The way I read parliamentary procedure is that the intention of the Committee is not relevant. It is what happened in the Committee. If we had to base what happened in Committees or on the Floor of the House, as it is the same procedure to a large extent, on the intention of the House or the intention of the Committee rather than on what actually happened, we would have to rewrite an awful lot of “Erskine May” and an awful lot of parliamentary history—certainly the events of the 1970s and 1980s when a lot of precedent was created. We would have to go back and look again at precedents that were created during that era because we would have to examine the intention of the House or the intention of individual Committees.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

Further to that point of order, Mr Amess. I am most grateful for your candour. I am pretty sure that if any of my constituents were listening to our proceedings this morning they would be absolutely clear that we had all voted on leave to withdraw the amendment. They would also wonder why we are indulging in quite so much conversation on this matter, given the state of the country and the seriousness of the Bill before us. I think we should proceed as you suggested, Mr Amess, vote again and get on with the debate.

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart Conservative, Penrith and The Border

Further to that point of order, Mr Amess. It is an important principle in English law that one should distinguish  between the intention and the act. Intention does feature. Furthermore it seems that if there is an ambiguity in the wording, as indeed there was when the question was presented to the Committee, that is also relevant. Finally if there seems to be any ambiguity around it, presumably this is something that could be resolved by asking all the members of the Committee to express their views again to clarify what it was they intended to say. I suspect that no Opposition Member is really suggesting that they intended to vote in that direction. They are simply trying to trick us on a technicality, but intention matters.

Photo of Fiona O'Donnell Fiona O'Donnell Labour, East Lothian

Further to that point of order, Mr Amess. I cannot thank you enough for your patience and generosity. It is important that we get this right. I would like to suggest that the Committee was misled before it proceeded to a vote, as in a legal case a judge may misdirect a jury. I also seek clarification about precedents. If a Member of this House unintentionally goes through the wrong Lobby, my understanding is that they are not allowed to revisit the vote, although they can pass through the other Lobby, thereby cancelling their vote. However, the Member’s intention is not what is at stake, and their act in casting their vote stands.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Further to that point of order, Mr Amess. I want to ask when you will address these points of order. Quite a few issues have been raised, and your ruling on those questions might take us forward.

I do have a point that you might be able to clarify, Mr Amess. In your earlier ruling, you said that you should have said that the clause was as amended, but that was a mistake. At least, I think that is what you said. It would be useful, and would give us clarity, for us to see the official record. Obviously, our proceedings are being transcribed verbatim as we speak. For the purpose of clearing this whole mess up, it would be useful to look at what actually happened and what was said at the time—regardless of hon. Members’ intentions and what was in their minds—to see what is on the record. Is it possible for us to look the official record, so we can see what was actually said?

Photo of Chris Evans Chris Evans Labour, Islwyn

Further to that point of order, Mr Amess. Thank you for allowing me to indulge in a point of order. I came to this Committee late, and I was faced with Government and Opposition Whips speaking to you. I was not privy to that conversation, and I do not know what advice you were given. I would be grateful if you could relay it to the Committee.

Photo of Ian Mearns Ian Mearns Labour, Gateshead

Further to that point of order, Mr Amess. It strikes me that the Clerk has said that he knew what was happening at the time. I know that this was adjacent to the adjournment for lunch, but why was it not said at the time? I wonder whether the best course of action now is for us to adjourn to get some clarification.

Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East

Further to that point of order, Mr Amess. I was not here this morning because I was speaking on the Floor of the House in the railway debate. If we do vote again, would it be with the same personnel, or would we have to remember who was and was not here earlier?

Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Further to that point of order, Mr Amess. Thank you for being so generous in listening to the concerns of all members of the Committee on this matter. I want to comment very briefly on the point of order raised by the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Chelsea and Fulham. He used the words “clear” and “absolutely clear” about six times in his point of order. I beg to differ. There is a complete lack of clarity about exactly what happened, and what happened in the ensuing vote.

I agree with hon. Members that there will be clarity in Hansard, and there is clarity in terms of the vote. I want to reinforce the points made by hon. Members that it sets a dangerous precedent for us to try to undo, redo or rewrite a vote that has taken place. I submit that we need to accept the vote. The Government Whips, if necessary, need to deal with the consequences at a later stage in the proceedings, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South suggested.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East

Further to that point of order, Mr Amess—[Hon. Members: “You weren’t even here.”]

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Labour, Bolton South East

If hon. Members give me the chance to speak, they will find out what I intend to say. My point of order is the same one that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East raised, which is that I was not here either.

Photo of Fiona O'Donnell Fiona O'Donnell Labour, East Lothian

Further to that point of order, Mr Amess—I assure you that this will be my last one. I want to reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North said. So that there can be absolutely no doubt about whether the Committee tried to rewrite history or make up for errors, wherever they were in the proceedings, there is an opportunity for the Government to try again, on Report, to amend clause 4. That seems to be an opportunity that places no doubt on the transparency and fairness that I know you would wish to uphold, Mr Amess. I have utter confidence in that, and that is how we should proceed.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Further to that point of order, Mr Amess. I had not intended to rise again, but I believe that the points of order raised by my hon. Friends are crucial, particularly on the issue of people who were not present for the original vote. If there is no precedent—I seek your guidance on that, Mr Amess—this situation could establish one. For example, people might be out of the Room when a vote is taken and, if people were unhappy with the result or with how the vote was conducted, they could be brought back in. I understood that locking the doors was crucial to that. I seek your guidance, Mr Amess, on the past and on what might be setting a precedent for the future.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

That will be the final point of order on the issue. I have listened carefully to what hon. Members have said and have taken all the points on board, but I am not going to respond in detail to each and every one.

In 1984 I was sitting in Committee Room 14, debating the rate-capping Bill, and everyone bar me had fallen asleep, when there was a Division. Even the Chairman  was fast asleep. The matters are, therefore, not entirely unprecedented. I have been here for some little while and have seen all sorts of situations, but I cannot get involved in the politics of the matter. As Chairman of the proceedings, I rely entirely on “Erskine May” and I refer colleagues to the point about confusion over questions on page 415. I have also sent a message to the Clerk of the House. Page 415 states:

“When a Member claimed that Members were confused about whether they were voting on the closure or the main question, the Deputy Speaker put the question again.”

That, therefore, is the end of the matter.