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Pre-Legislative Scrutiny

Volume 407: debated on Tuesday 24 June 2003

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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.