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Programming Of Bills

Volume 403: debated on Tuesday 8 April 2003

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What proposals he will bring forward to the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons on programming Bills. [107447]

My right hon. Friend has no plans to bring forward proposals on programming Bills. He notes that the Modernisation Committee has said that it will keep the operation of programming under continuing consideration.

As someone who does not oppose timetabling Bills in principle, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary and the new Leader of the House, whom I know to be a reasonable man—[Laughter.] I may have got that wrong. I ask them to examine the process of tabling amendments in another place which revert to the House of Commons on Report. There is often insufficient time to scrutinise them in the elected Chamber. That cannot be right. What will the Parliamentary Secretary and the new Leader of House do to deal with that serious difficulty?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's welcome in principle for programming. I am glad that he agrees that it is a good step forward from the position under the previous Government. I am happy to consider any specific case that he wants to raise to ascertain whether programming can be improved in future.

I am a member of the Modernisation Committee and I also serve on the Chairmen's Panel. There are sometimes difficulties when a knife falls and guillotines are also operating on the Floor of the House. Will my hon. Friend undertake to examine that and perhaps invite all the members of the Chairmen's Panel to submit their views on flaws in the timetabling system, which I currently strongly support?

I am well aware of the specific difficulties to which my hon. Friend refers. We would be happy to consider them. As a supporter of programming in principle, he knows that it has worked extremely well when there has been good co-operation between the parties.

Will the deputy Leader encourage the new Leader of the House to apply his no-nonsense approach to the Government's legislative programme? It is seriously over-congested and the guillotining regime is far too aggressive. Cannot we use the opportunity to have a less frenetic approach to legislation?

The right hon. Gentleman is right that we have a heavy legislative programme. The Government want to introduce many important laws for the benefit of our country. He is wrong to use the term "guillotining". That system was used under the Conservative Government, often a long way into consideration of a Bill. It allowed no debate on some of the important aspects of a measure. The difference between that and programming is that if the Opposition co-operate properly, the latter should be a method of sensibly scrutinising Government Bills, especially their most controversial aspects.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary convey our congratulations to his right hon. Friend the new Leader of the House on his promotion? In his discussions with his right hon. Friend, will he emphasise the importance of achieving all-party agreement? Will he discuss with his right hon. Friend whether he believes it appropriate for someone who may not be committed to the modernisation of Parliament to chair the Modernisation Committee?

I ask the hon. Gentleman not to rush to judge the way in which my right hon. Friend will act if he becomes Chairman of the Modernisation Committee. In last April's report from the Chairman of Ways and Means, he stated that he acknowledged that

"the Opposition has to share a degree of responsibility for this disappointing outcome. The stated refusal of many Opposition Members to support almost any aspect of the modernisation agenda or even to engage in constructive discussion about them was a discouraging background to the Committee's inquiry in 2000."