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House Of Commons

Volume 407: debated on Tuesday 24 June 2003

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The Leader of the House was asked

Programming

37.

To ask the Leader of the House if he will make a statement on progress with the arrangements for programming of Bills. [121027]

The Government believe that the arrangements for the programming of Bills are broadly satisfactory. It is in the interests of both sides of the House to agree a sensible programme for consideration of Bills.

On behalf of the whole House, I ask the new Leader of the House—I wish him well in his new responsibilities—whether it is right that a programme motion that is decided by the Government without consultation or debate should take place immediately after the vote on Second Reading of a Bill. Although I believe it right that the Government should decide the out-date from Standing Committee, does he not agree that it would be better for the whole House, and for its integrity and reputation, if such matters were discussed under the independent Chairman of the Standing Committee by the Programming Sub-Committee of that Committee? That way, all matters could be discussed and the Opposition parties could have a real input into what they wish to debate in Committee.

May I first acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's long and admirable record on these matters, especially in his role as Chairman of the Procedure Committee? I should like to discuss those matters with him, and I recognise the points that he makes. Programming is obviously vital—no one in the House seriously challenges that view. [Interruption.] Apparently, the shadow Leader of the House does, but then he has not been willing to engage the Opposition co-operatively in discussions on establishing programmes that are acceptable to all sides. However, I shall look into the issue that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) raises.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new post, but does he recognise that there have been problems with, and shortcomings in, the programming of Bills? For instance, certain key clauses in the Licensing Bill, which had its Third Reading in the House of Commons only a few days ago, were not debated and therefore not voted on. We must deal with such shortcomings; otherwise, they will become increasingly glaring.

Obviously, as the process develops and becomes more refined by agreement of the House, those issues will have to be examined.

We welcome the fact that the Leader of the House is prepared to think afresh about these issues, and I encourage him to be radical in examining ways in which the business of the House can be managed more intelligently. Will he give the House a cast-iron guarantee that, if he produces radical proposals, he will not on this occasion be mugged, gagged and forced to recant by the heavies from No. 10 and No. 11 Downing street? If the Liberal Democrat proposals for improving the income tax regime are still to the Leader of the House's taste, will he also examine our proposals for improving the business of the House?

Being mugged by the hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, be a taxing experience. As to his question, it is for the Modernisation Committee to examine, but I will obviously want to take part in that discussion.

Pre-Legislative Scrutiny

38.

What discussions he has had with Government Departments and others to ensure that all Bills in the next Session will be available for pre-legislative scrutiny. [121029]

The Government are committed to increasing the number of Bills that are published in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny, and we are working hard to achieve that. Five Bills have been published in draft this Session so far, and more will follow.

Following the demise of my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), some of the steam has gone out of the desire for pre-legislative scrutiny. Will the Leader of the House ensure that Chairs of Select Committees and Departments bring forward Bills for pre-legislative discussion? In particular, will he examine the draft constitution of the European Union and ensure that it is put before the House for pre-legislative scrutiny in draft form—not after it has been agreed at the IGC, when we will be faced with a simple yes or no? The people of Britain and hon. Members deserve to be involved in discussing and revising the draft EU constitution, and not be presented with a fait accompli.

On the general principle, five draft Bills have already been published this Session, and four more are to follow, which makes nine in comparison with six during the last Session. On my hon. Friend's substantive point, I acknowledge his creative and innovative ideas and I will want to examine them. Let us pause for moment and look at the process ahead of us. The IGC is about to start, following the conclusion of the European Convention. It will probably start in the autumn and could take a year. Meanwhile, we have an agreement with the European Scrutiny Committee and we have deposited for scrutiny the Praesidium draft texts and produced explanatory memorandums. Members of Parliament have had many opportunities to debate the proposed constitution and there will be future opportunities: indeed, I shall make a further announcement shortly.

The junior Minister in the Department for Constitutional Affairs confirmed a few minutes ago that setting up an appointments commission would require legislation. Can the tax-raising Leader of the House please confirm that any appointments commission would be fully and statutorily independent of the Home Secretary; that the Home Secretary would have no direct or indirect role in the appointment of judges under such legislation; and that the legislation can be guaranteed pre-legislative scrutiny of the sort that the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) mentioned? Would any Bill to set up a supreme court also have full pre-legislative scrutiny? I hope that the part-time Leader of the House can confirm those matters.

I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman is singling out the Home Secretary, which, frankly, seems a bit unfair. However, the objective is to establish an independent procedure, which is what it says. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, and as made clear by the Lord Chancellor, a consultation paper on all these matters will be published on 14 July. At that point, the right hon. Gentleman and all hon. Members will have the opportunity to consider how to proceed. I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would welcome both the consultation and the legislation to follow.

While I welcome my right hon. Friend to his post, may I ask for his assurance that the draft Disability Bill will enjoy the widest possible consultation? Will that consultation include the need for a single equality Act—necessary if we are to pursue the policy of amalgamating the various commissions, including the Disability Rights Commission?

I acknowledge my right hon. Friend's long interest in and expertise on disability matters. We hope to publish the Bill by the end of the year and it will obviously be a candidate for pre-legislative scrutiny, subject to further consideration.