Backbench Business — Valedictory Debate

Part of Elections for Positions in the House – in the House of Commons am 2:46 pm ar 26 Mawrth 2015.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of John Stanley John Stanley Chair, Committees on Arms Export Controls, Chair, Committees on Arms Export Controls, Chair, Committees on Arms Export Controls, Chair, Committees on Arms Export Controls, Chair, Committees on Arms Export Controls, Chair, Committees on Arms Export Controls 2:46, 26 Mawrth 2015

Without question, the greatest privilege I have had during my 41 years in this House and throughout my life is to have represented the people of Tonbridge and Malling in one of the most beautiful and historic parts of our country. I make a mild apology to Members on both sides of the House that my constituency is a phonetical trap, given that, almost with exception, every town and village is pronounced differently from the way in which it is spelt. I am glad to say that Mr Straw, with his intimate knowledge from his time as my Labour opponent, pronounced the name of my constituency impeccably when he spoke earlier.

I am also glad to see Mr Hain in his place and I want to take this opportunity to thank him for the contribution he made as a Foreign Office Minister to establishing a sound and effective policy on arms export control for the British Government. I have been the Chairman of the Committees on Arms Export Controls for the whole of this Parliament, and we have been doing our utmost to secure adherence to the policy the right hon. Gentleman set down in 2000.

I want to address my top concerns as I leave the House. The most important responsibility we have in this House is the proper and effective scrutiny of the Government’s proposals for the future law of the land. I have to be blunt: on the scrutiny of both primary and secondary legislation, this House has had its position in relation to the Executive weakened very substantially in the time I have been here.

The previous Government, early on, introduced the automatic guillotining of all Bills without debate after Second Reading, which represents a huge erosion of the scrutiny powers of the House. I certainly wish to call on the next Government, and indeed on the next House, to revert to the previous position whereby there was no such automatic guillotining of Bills after Second Reading, but there was a reserve power under Standing Orders for the Government to introduce a guillotine motion to deal with a clear attempt to filibuster.

The position on secondary legislation—almost entirely unreported and unrecorded—is every bit as serious in my view. The reason why we have virtually no debates at all on negative resolution statutory instruments and that those on affirmative resolution statutory instruments are for 90 minutes only and non-amendable is of course that secondary legislation is supposed to be relatively non-substantial and non-controversial. That was only a convention, and I believe that the House made an enormous mistake by not giving it a firmer buttress.

The convention was absolutely adhered to, as I vividly recollect. As the housing Minister responsible for the right to buy Housing Bill in 1979, I asked for a particular order-making power and the first parliamentary counsel, who was responsible for the drafting, came back to me—very politely, but very firmly—and refused to enshrine the power in the Bill because it was too widely drafted. I call on the House to revert to the position in which the then convention that secondary legislation should essentially be confined to non-substantive and non-controversial matters is restored and made firm either in Standing Orders or by legislation.

To give an illustration of the existing width of the powers—