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Volume 407: debated on Tuesday 24 June 2003

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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.