On 21 May 2018, as Shadow Leader of the House I spoke in the Emergency Debate on Private Members’ Bills Money Resolutions. An emergency debate is a debate called at short notice in the House of Commons on a matter that should have urgent consideration.
Below is my speech in full:
That this House has considered the expectation that the Government brings forward a Money resolution relating to a private Member’s bill which has received a second reading.
Valerie Vaz: I thank the Leader of the House for what she has said. I hope she will listen to what I have to say, too. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) made the application for an emergency debate. Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing the debate, which is about the will of the House. You have always been a champion of Parliament and I know you will continue to be so. I am disappointed that my hon. Friend has had to take up the time of the House, when we would much prefer to be debating the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and other important Bills from the other place.
My first point is: what has brought us here? My hon. Friend made representations to me as shadow Leader of the House. He was perplexed as to why his important Bill was stuck in a queue, on call waiting. As the Leader of the House will know, I had to raise this important issue with her in three consecutive business questions—on 3 May, 10 May and 17 May. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) raised it in a point of order on 3 May, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton on 9 May as well as in an urgent question on 10 May. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) also raised it at business questions last week, but unfortunately the Leader of the House has failed to appropriately address the issue and respond to our pleas.
The lack of a money resolution affects not just my hon. Friend but a number of hon. Members across the House. Right hon. and hon. Members have taken the time to introduce their private Members’ Bills to Parliament. They are not, as the Leader of the House quotes Winston Churchill, “happy thoughts”; they go through a process and a procedure. Right hon. and hon. Members are pleased when their Bills have a reading and it is a testament to the importance of their Bills that they have passed Second Reading—that is the will of the House.
The following Bills are awaiting a money resolution: the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill from the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton); the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill from the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson); the Overseas Electors Bill from the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies); the Parking (Code of Practice) Bill from the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight); and the Refugees (Family Reunion) (No. 2) Bill from the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil)—I cannot pronounce his constituency as well as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) did. Those are all important Bills that have not had their money resolution.
The second point that I want to raise is on practice and procedure. Why do we have that? So that there is certainty about the House’s rules. The procedures are there for transparency. It is about fairness. Perhaps the Government like chaos and uncertainty, but there is no benefit to society and this House from chaos and uncertainty. The Leader of the House quotes “Erskine May”, and I will quote it too: “A money resolution is normally considered immediately after the second reading of the bill to which it relates”.
Once a Bill has received its Second Reading, it cannot be right for the Government to delay money resolutions for such a long period of time. I have previously quoted from the parliamentary website—it is there for the whole world to see. I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton said when he spoke about the evidence given to the Procedure Committee by a previous Leader of the House, and about what a former Minister—the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman)—said: it is about conventions. That Minister said that providing a money resolution “is not a signal of Government support; it is absolutely in line with the convention of the House”.
Mr Rees-Mogg: The quotation that the hon. Lady gives from “Erskine May” on the provision of money resolutions immediately after Second Reading has never been applied to private Members’ Bills. They have always got it at a later date; it is only Government Bills that get the money resolution immediately afterwards.
Valerie Vaz: That is a matter that we need to take up with the writers of “Erskine May”, but nevertheless, it is there. This is about interpretation and that is what it says.
Of the private Members’ Bills in need of a money resolution, the Bill from my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton is the only Bill that received its Second Reading in 2017 and has yet to have a money resolution agreed. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) is lucky: his Health and Social Care (National Data Guardian) Bill had its Second Reading on the same day—1 December 2017—but after my hon. Friend’s Bill, and it has been given its money resolution today. However, the whole point about procedures, processes and conventions is that Members should not have to be lucky. It should not have to be granted at the whim of the Government. There should be certainty.
Mr Charles Walker: The hon. Lady will know that the Procedure Committee has come up with two excellent reports in the past four years on how to reform private Members’ Bills. These reports have been resisted by the Whips Offices on both sides of the House. Does she think we should have another go?
Valerie Vaz: I appreciate the hard work the hon. Gentleman does on the Procedure Committee, but sadly it is not up to me; I wish it were—I would like to support him.
Thirdly, how do the measures in the Bill differ from the Government’s instructions to the boundary commissions? What would the Bill actually do? It was the ninth Bill of the Session presented and passed its Second Reading by an overwhelming 229 to 44 votes on 1 December. It is an important Bill because it would give instructions to the boundary commissions different from the previous constrained instructions. It would do several things to those constrained instructions. Clause 1 would alter the change in the size of the House of Commons made by the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 from 600 to 650 Members and provide a fixed allocation of 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland, with the remaining 632 in Great Britain. Six hundred is an arbitrary figure. Where is the evidence that the number of constituencies should be reduced to 600?
Clause 2 would change the current UK-wide requirement for constituencies, excluding the four island seats, to be within plus or minus 5% of the electoral quota and establish new quotas, one for Great Britain and one for Northern Ireland. In each case, there would be a requirement for constituencies to be within plus or minus 7.5% of the relevant electoral quota.
Mr Harper: The hon. Lady says that 600 is an arbitrary number, but so is 650. However, there is an important difference: 600 is not an arbitrary number; it is the number that Parliament put into law for a boundary review that it legislated for in 2011. Is it not right that we allow the boundary commissions to finish their work so that the House can consider their reports before deciding what steps to take next?
Valerie Vaz: It is an arbitrary figure—it was plucked out of thin air without reference to any evidence. It might have been agreed by the House, but there was no evidence. The Bill would retain the status quo. It would also require the quota to be based on the total number of voters derived from registers of parliamentary electors published for the 2017 general election, or the most recent election thereafter. This would allow the 2.1 million electors registered after 1 December 2015 to be included in the review.
Alec Shelbrooke: On the hon. Lady’s point about using the register from the last general election, if the Bill were to go through and further delay matters—it might be another two years before proposals or policies come forward—would she still want to use a register that by then would be three or four years old?
Valerie Vaz: This is the most current register—and the 2.1 million people left off the existing register have to be included—but the Bill says that the register from the most recent election should be used.
The Bill would allow the 2.1 million electors to be included in the review. The Government passed a statutory instrument that many in the House agreed with, allowing people to register to vote right up until Thursday 9 June 2016—for the referendum—so they accept that voting is important, and those 2.1 million people should be counted and have their voices heard.
Alex Sobel: At the time of the Government’s boundary review, my constituency had 7,000 fewer electors than at the 2017 general election and slightly more than at the referendum. Should we not be using those figures, as my hon. Friend says, otherwise we are denuding my constituency of the ability to be of an equal size to others?
Valerie Vaz: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. He makes his point very well. Clause 4 would require the boundary commissions to complete their reports, including in relation to the requirements in clauses 1 to 3, by 1 October 2020 and to report by 1 October every 10th year, rather than every five years, as provided for by the 2011 Act. Giving the boundary commissions 10 years will actually save costs.
Lloyd Russell-Moyle: Does that clause not mean that over time the Bill would save, not cost, the taxpayer money, that it is a case of spending a penny now to save a pound later and that therefore the arguments against a money resolution are null and defunct?
Valerie Vaz: I absolutely agree. It will actually save money in the long run.
Responding to me following the urgent question on Thursday 10 May, the Leader of the House said that “it is right that we allow the Boundary Commission to report its recommendations before carefully considering how to proceed.” However, the review is based on a flawed premise. We have had a referendum and we have had a general election, and as a result of our exit from the European Union we have lost further representation by our Members of the European Parliament. The workload of Members of Parliament has increased following local authority cuts and the cuts in advice services: for instance, my local citizens advice bureau has had to cut staff numbers. Members are now having to deal with more cases.
Responding to me during business questions last week, the Leader of the House said: “The Boundary Commission review will cost taxpayers something in the order of £12 million, and it cannot be right that further money, to the tune of more than £5 million, be made available to a completely separate Bill when that work is under way.” However, waiting for the review will cost more money. May I ask the Leader of the House what is the financial impact of waiting for the commission to report? I am sure she will agree that this is about democracy. What price democracy?
The Committee considering my hon. Friend’s Bill has met three times, but has not been able to consider a single clause of it. The Committee is due to meet again on Wednesday 23 May. Will the Leader of the House ensure and expedite the tabling of a money resolution that can be brought to the House? She mentioned that a money resolution for the Bill had been presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed), but I had to raise the matter during business questions, and the Committee had to meet five times before the resolution was granted.
May I ask the Leader of the House again—she did not answer this during business questions—whether there will be a reduction in the number of Ministers? If not, we shall have an overpowering Executive who want to prevent scrutiny by cutting the number of MPs. It is not right for us to have such an overpowering Executive, and it is not right to reduce scrutiny of it.
Finally, let me ask a constitutional question. I do not want to upset people or make them afraid, but some constitutional theorists have suggested that there may be a personal prerogative whereby the monarch does not have to follow the Prime Minister’s advice. An example given during a lecture—perhaps the parliamentary private secretary to the Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), was also at that lecture: she might have been, in 2005—was the gerrymandering of constituencies in the interests of one party, and not in the interests of democracy.
This is a hung Parliament, whose mandate is different from that of 2011. As we say hello to 13 new peers in the other place, we may be saying goodbye to 50 of us. As the numbers in the other place increase, the numbers in this House decrease. According to every definition of a good Parliament and a functioning democracy, that is not acceptable. More than 2 million people have been ignored by this Government. In the interests of procedural certainty, conventions, fairness and democracy, the Government should act now and grant the money resolution.