Before we begin, I have a few preliminary announcements. Members may, if they wish, remove their jackets in Committee sittings. I remind Members to switch off their phones or to put them on silent.
As a general rule, my fellow Chair and I do not intend to call starred amendments that have not been tabled with adequate notice, which is three working days for Public Bill Committees. Therefore, amendments should be tabled by the rise of the House on Monday for consideration on Thursday, and by the rise of the House on Thursday for consideration on Tuesday.
Before we begin our line-by-line consideration of the Bill, some brief explanations may be useful for Members who are relatively new to Public Bill Committees. The selection list for today’s sitting is available in the room. It shows the amendments that have been selected for debate and how they have been grouped. Those that have been grouped are generally on the same or a similar issue.
The Member who has put their name to the leading amendment in a group will be called first. Other Members are free to catch my eye to speak to all amendments in the group. A Member may speak more than once in a single debate.
At the end of the debate on a group of the amendments, I will call the Member who moved the leading amendment again. Before they sit down, they will need to indicate whether they wish to seek to withdraw the amendment or to seek a Division. If a Member wishes to press any other amendment in the group to a vote, they will need to let me know.
I work on the assumption that the Government wish the Committee to reach a decision on all Government amendments. Please note that decisions on amendments do not take place in the order they are debated, but in the order they appear on the amendment paper.
I will use my discretion on whether to allow a separate stand part debate on individual clauses and schedules following the debates on the relevant amendments. In other words, if we spend a long time on one group of amendments, I will allow it to veer into other areas of the clause, and there will be no stand part debate. Someone may want to ask me whether I intend to allow a stand part debate.
The Committee will automatically adjourn at 11.25 am this morning. This afternoon’s adjournment is in the hands of the Whips, but I will prompt them to let them know that it is conventional for it to be at round about 5 o’clock.
I hope that those explanations are helpful.
I beg to move,
(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 8.55 am on Tuesday 26 November) meet—
(a) at 2.00 pm on Tuesday 26 November;
(b) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 28 November;
(c) at 8.55 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 3 December;
(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 3; Schedule 1; Clause 4; Schedule 2; Clauses 5 to 8; Schedule 3; Clauses 9 to 14; Schedule 4; Clause 15; Schedule 5; Clauses 16 to 19; Schedule 6; Clauses 20 and 21; Schedule 7; Clauses 22 to 24; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;
(3) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Tuesday 3 December.
First, may I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Robertson? I look forward to your wise guidance to us all in our deliberations on the Bill. I also look forward to the chairmanship of your co-Chair, Ms Dorries. I also welcome all members of the Committee. I know that we will have a good and informed debate. I recognise that the Committee has a range of experience and understanding, from which I am sure we will benefit as the Committee progresses.
I believe that the programme motion provides for more than adequate time to scrutinise the Bill in detail. As the Committee will readily appreciate, it provides for three days of debate over six sittings—today, this Thursday and next Tuesday. As I hope is apparent from the motion, we propose to consider the Bill in order, with schedules taken along with relevant clauses, as you have explained, Mr Robertson.
I hope that the Committee will be minded to approve the programme motion and that we can proceed with line-by-line consideration.
It is also a pleasure for me to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson, for, I think, the first time. It is good to be here with your guidance.
It is with some regret that we have agreed to three days for the Bill. Although there is a huge amount of agreement and not that much controversy with the Bill, clause 1 is hugely contentious, as the Minister will have gathered from the debate on Second Reading. Not one hon. Member referred to the rest of the Bill; every contribution was about clause 1, which was not inserted by the Government, so we find ourselves in an unusual situation. We hope to be able to spend a great deal of the time allocated to our consideration of the Bill on clause 1.
There is a disadvantage in the Minister’s suggestion. We would not be able to do that, because we profoundly disagree with the removal of the clause. I do not want to labour the point too much, because I want to get on to debating the clause. We would have liked more time to discuss clause 1 and to go into the issues in a lot more depth, but I will leave it there for now.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair and to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I rise not to challenge the programme motion, but to seek the Minister’s assurance on an important point. However long we take to debate the clause, it is undeniable that we will deal with it first. Once we have moved beyond the clause and we are on to more detailed issues, I am mindful—I am sure the whole Committee is mindful—that there are events taking place that are relevant to the Bill seemingly on a daily basis at the moment. I am thinking particularly of G4S admitting last week that it had overcharged the Ministry of Justice—the Minister will understand the relevance—by £24 million, and offering to pay it back.
On Friday, the Justice Secretary announced the decision not to award a contract for the South Yorkshire prisons to Serco, because of the delay associated with the investigation, which rightly had been carried out by the Government. Will the Minister assure us that if events take place that are relevant to the Bill, whether in clause 1 or any other part of the Bill, he will seek to inform the Committee as soon as possible?
It is a great pleasure to serve under your very able chairmanship, Mr Robertson—not for the first time in my case.
I agree with the hon. Member for Darlington and the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East about the gravity of the proceedings we are discussing today. The clause is important; it was supported by people from all sides in the other place, reflecting the will of that House. Merely wiping it off the face of the Bill seems to be not unconstitutional, but something that we should not proceed to do in this way. That would be a matter for the whole House to decide, not the Committee.
Other things in the Bill are of critical importance, not least the points mentioned about the shysters who will be involved if the Government have their way. There are risks in proceeding without any pilots; we are kicking a ball into the air without any knowledge of where the ball will land. That analogy is perhaps not serious enough, but there are risks being posed. We all know from the Government’s internal risk assessment that we are treading on very thin ice. If things go wrong, it is not simply a matter of saying, “Oh, dear. We’ll do something else.” If things go wrong, people will be in danger; there is no doubt about that. If we dismantle the probation service, as is intended, it will be extremely difficult to put it back together again.
I fail to understand—other than pure dogma—why much of the Bill is before us today. However, we will have plenty of time to debate it in the coming days. I am sure that, as usual, the Minister will engage with us as much as he can. There will be many questions proposed, and I am sure he will do his level best to answer them, because the public demand that.
I am grateful for comments made by members of the Committee. The hon. Member for Darlington is right that there is a broad measure of agreement on a large part of the Bill. I certainly recognise that there will be extensive debate on clause 1, but the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd is right that there are important other parts of the Bill to consider. It is important to strike that balance.
In response to the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East, I will try to keep the Committee as updated as I can. He will recognise that there are limits on the comments I am able to make about the particular companies he referred to, because of ongoing investigations. I will be hamstrung to some degree in what I am able to say to the Committee and the way in which I am able to respond to some amendments. I know that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise and appreciate that.
I hope the Committee will support the programme motion and that we can get to the important work described by hon. and right hon. Members.