Both the Modernisation and Procedure Committees considered that subject towards the end of the previous Parliament. Following their reports, the House approved changes to the relevant Orders—including making them into permanent Standing Orders—in October 2004. The Modernisation Committee also touched on the subject in its report last year on the legislative process. The Government have no current plans to conduct a further review of the operation of programming or to ask the Modernisation Committee to conduct such a review.
Does the Leader of the House accept that the programming procedure is thoroughly unsatisfactory to both sides of the House? It does not allow Back Benchers on either side of the House to participate properly in many important debates. Will he consider that matter again? Can I make a plea to the usual channels—of which I have never been part—to give more authority back to the Back Benches? In that regard, will the Leader of the House please consider setting up a business committee duly representative of the Back Benches?
There is a wider issue about Back Benchers’ involvement in the business of the House. As a senior member of the Modernisation Committee, the hon. Gentleman knows that it is currently considering the use of non-legislative time and ways in which the role of the Back Bencher can be strengthened. The programming arrangements are not wholly unsatisfactory; they are a great deal better than those to which he and I were used when we first came into the House, when there was no programming and a ritual of Opposition Members talking Committees into the night, then going for guillotining and not considering Bills in any detail. We were always ready to consider proposals for improving arrangements, and we did so in the summer of 2004. I am not certain that his specific proposal, made when he was Chairman of the Procedure Committee, of a 48-hour gap between Second Reading and agreement on the Sub-Programming Committee, would produce any benefits. That is the issue—nothing else—between us.