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Programme Motions

Volume 477: debated on Thursday 19 June 2008

20. If she will bring forward proposals to amend Standing Orders to provide for debate on all programme motions. (212156)

We have no plans to bring forward motions to amend the present programming arrangements in that respect; they already allow for most such motions to be debated directly or, subject to the Chair, to be brought into debate on related business.

With due respect to the Deputy Leader of the House, I do not think that that is quite correct. We cannot debate Second Reading programme motions: they have to be put forthwith. I am surprised that the Leader of the House has not corrected her earlier statement when she promised to look into this matter. Would it not be better if these horrible programme motions—if we have to have them at all—were handled by a business Committee of this House, rather than the usual channels?

The hon. Gentleman is right that the Standing Order indicates that the question on the programme motion should be put forthwith, but that does not mean that it cannot be debated. It can be debated as part of the Second Reading debate, with the agreement of the Chair. I am grateful to him for motivating me to consider the way in which the Order Paper is drafted. As he knows, at the moment the programme motion, which usually follows the Second Reading motion on the Order Paper, says that there will be no debate on it. It might be clearer if it stated “No further debate.” If the House would prefer that, we could raise it with the House authorities. It might be a more helpful way to set the issues out on the Order Paper.

On Report on the Counter-Terrorism Bill, Members had only three hours to discuss 16 new clauses and dozens of new amendments. With the Planning Bill, 218 new amendments were tabled at a very late stage. Late amendments were also tabled for the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, meaning that they could not be debated. When will the Leader of the House provide proper time for Members to discuss vital issues?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s proposition that proper time is not being given. I want to give him some other facts that will demonstrate how flexible we are and how we take account of the needs of the House to debate particular matters. Let us take as an example the European Union (Amendment) Bill. We spent a whole day discussing a motion—it was not a programme motion, but a motion on how the House would handle the Bill—and agreed how we would handle it. Let us take Finance Bills. They are not programmed at all. Let us take the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. It spent two days before the Committee of the whole House, as was agreed in a programme motion on Second Reading. Let us take, as the hon. Gentleman does, the Counter-Terrorism Bill. We had two days on Report and the programme motion was debated for 45 minutes at the beginning of that stage. Let us take the Banking (Special Provisions) Bill, where we had an allocation—[Interruption.]

The Leader of the House and her deputy are being far too defensive. They might be the Opposition in two years’ time, not the Government. As the Leader of the House said to me a few weeks ago, there is a very good case for ensuring that Government amendments and new clauses receive extra time on Report, because otherwise they eat into time that is meant not for the Government but for the rest of the House of Commons so that we can ask questions.

Can we look again at programme motions? If this place is meant to hold the Executive to account, one of the best ways that we can do it is by delaying Government business. If they take away that weapon, the Deputy Leader of the House and the Leader of the House might live to regret it as much as others do now.

The hon. Gentleman, as ever, puts his case most persuasively. Of course, it is right that on Report hon. Members should have a proper opportunity to discuss all the issues. In particular, Back-Bench Members should have their share of the time. I would, however, like to point out that, following the introduction of programme motions, there has been a declining trend in the number of groups of amendments that have not been reached. Of course, we always keep these matters under review.