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Government Amendments

Volume 405: debated on Tuesday 20 May 2003

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If he will make a statement on the number of Government amendments made to each Government Bill passed by this House in this Session. [114247]

The number of Government amendments made to each Bill is not held centrally, but the information is available from the Official Report, and from the Votes and Proceedings or the Standing Committee proceedings.

I was a member of the Standing Committee on the Criminal Justice Bill, which was one of the most excellent Standing Committees on a Bill that I have ever had the privilege to serve on. The Bill is now back before the House yesterday and today, and, unfortunately, about half of it is new to the House and to members of the Standing Committee—[HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful!"]—although Opposition Members who are always crying wolf do not do us any favours when there is a genuine problem about parliamentary accountability.

Will my hon. Friend tell the House whether he feels that pre-legislative scrutiny of all Bills will help the House to scrutinise Bills effectively and to reduce the unacceptably high number of Government amendments that are made to all Bills these days?

Yes, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He will probably know that we have already published four draft Bills this Session; we expect to publish several more in the next few weeks. I am confident that significantly more Bills will have been published in draft this Session than ever before. On my hon. Friend's specific point about the Criminal Justice Bill, I am please that his experience on the Standing Committee was a positive one, and I would remind the House that the Government have given an unprecedented amount of time to the Report stage in the Chamber—

:Yes, they have. No previous Bill has had three full six-and-a-half-hour days on Report on the Floor of the House.

Today's running order for the Criminal Justice Bill—by the way, it carries the words, "By Order of the Speaker", although that should read, "By Order of the Government", if I may say so, to protect you, Mr. Speaker, and your impartiality—shows, by my calculation, that the Government are allowing the House of Commons two and a half hours to consider 16 new clauses and more than 30 amendments, an hour and a half to consider three new clauses and more than 100 amendments, and a further hour and a half to consider four new clauses, one schedule and one amendment.

How on earth do the Government expect the House to discharge its responsibility for proper scrutiny of legislation when they are imposing such a timetable on our deliberations? Are not the Government yet again trampling gratuitously all over the House of Commons and denying Members of Parliament the opportunity to discharge our responsibility to our voters by properly scrutinising legislation? When is the Minister going to do something about it?

The right hon. Gentleman's fake outrage might carry more credibility if the Opposition had used the full six and a half hours that we gave them yesterday. They did not; the business ended early.

I am dumbfounded by that comment from the Minister. The fact remains that nearly 500 amendments and 28 new clauses have been tabled to the Criminal Justice Bill, dealing with the most crucial issues of life and liberty. The Government have effectively introduced a new Criminal Justice Bill on Report, so should there not be a process whereby the Bill is automatically referred back to a Standing Committee to receive proper consideration before going to another place, which, I might remind the Minister, is not elected and therefore does not have the same credentials as this House to examine those essential issues?

Many of the changes to that Bill came out of the 32 Standing Committee sittings to which my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) referred. [Interruption.] Yes, they did. Others have been introduced as a result of legal necessity, because of judgments in the courts outside this place. Would the hon. Gentleman like to suggest which other important measures, such as those on getting to grips with the scandal of killer drivers who get off with lenient sentences or the problem of firearms, his party does not want on the statute book?

Does the Minister believe that two and a half hours is adequate for talking about life sentencing, road traffic offences and firearms offences? Is it sufficient for the House of Commons? Will he assure us that, if the House of Commons gets that time, the House of Lords will get something similar?

The Opposition did not use their full allocation of time yesterday when we were debating the Bill, and the hon. Gentleman's false outrage would be more credible if they had. As I said in answer to an earlier question, no previous Government allowed nearly 20 hours on Report on the Floor of the House for any Bill. This is unprecedented.