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Draft Legislative Programme

Volume 475: debated on Thursday 8 May 2008

28. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the Government’s publication of a draft legislative programme. (204043)

May I first apologise, like the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), for the fact that because I will be attending the funeral of my good friend and doughty parliamentarian, Gwyneth Dunwoody, I will be unable to remain in my place for the conclusion of these questions I will leave the business statement in the competent hands of the Deputy Leader of the House.

Following the publication of last year’s draft legislative programme on 11 July 2007, the Government published in November a summary of the consultation carried out and the comments received in “The Government’s Draft Legislative Programme— Taking a Wider View”. As Leader of the House, I contributed to the Modernisation Committee’s inquiry on the draft legislative programme. That Committee reported in January 2008, and the outcomes from those exercises have informed the consultation process for this year’s draft legislative programme, which will be published shortly.

While the Government are now apparently full of empathy and listening, does the Leader of the House recall the fanfare greeting of last year’s draft legislative programme, which said that it was all about

“improving the public’s opportunity to have a say in that process”?

How many members of the public actually had their say and what difference did it make?

Last year, for the first time, instead of merely producing the list of Bills that would comprise the Government’s legislative programme in the Queen’s Speech, we published our programme in draft in advance, in order to make transparent a process that had hitherto been carried out only behind closed doors. That allowed people to see what we were doing and to have their say. We conceded that we did that late in the day because it was brought in by the new Prime Minister, who had only taken up his office in June. We thus undertook to do it earlier this year in order to allow people more of a say, and that is what we intend to do.

Are we going to have a special referendum Bill relating to the future of the United Kingdom? I remind the right hon. and learned Lady that my constituents and hers have as much ownership of, and interest in, the future of the United Kingdom as do people in Edinburgh or Glasgow. If it is true that the United Kingdom Cabinet has not discussed this matter, then it should. Its failure to do so would be an abdication of its constitutional responsibilities, and this House has a duty, for the sake of the future of the United Kingdom, which needs to be addressed.

The contents of the draft legislative programme will be announced shortly. However, on scrutiny by this House of English regional issues, my hon. Friend will know that the Modernisation Committee is conducting an inquiry into English regional Select Committees and will make its proposals shortly.

The Leader of the House said that the draft legislative programme would be published shortly. The Modernisation Committee report of January supported the proposal that she had put forward that the draft legislative programme should be published at Easter. I note she said that that would provide enough time for the Government to have sensible measures to put forward. Are we to read into the fact that the programme has not been published at Easter this year that the Government have nothing sensible to say?

The right hon. Lady will have to make up her mind, along with everybody else, when we publish our draft legislative programme, but perhaps she will also remember that Easter was very early this year.