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“The Governance of Britain”

Volume 488: debated on Thursday 5 March 2009

2. What progress has been made on those proposals in “The Governance of Britain” Green Paper for which she is responsible. (260751)

The House has agreed proposals for regional Select Committees and Grand Committees, which were among the issues raised in “The Governance of Britain” Green Paper. In addition, we have today published detailed plans for strengthening Parliament’s role in scrutinising Government expenditure, aligning budgets, estimates and accounts.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a truism that the longer Governments are in power, the more comfortable they become with the subordination of Parliament? Does he also agree that, if that is the case, we have only a small window of opportunity for genuine democratic reform when there is a change of Government, as there was in 1997? Will he reassure us that the Government have not run out of steam on democratic reform in the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend, with whom I have waged many campaigns from the Back Benches, is an ardent supporter of the independence of this House and the significant role it must play in holding the Government to account. As I have just said, we have published another command paper today on the question of how better to align estimates and budgets so that the House can do a better job of looking at expenditure. I do not think that this Government have run out of steam on modernising this House or on ensuring that we have a constitution that is fit for purpose.

The Deputy Leader of the House mentioned regional Select Committees as something to be proud of, but the Government not pushing them through when there is no consensus in the House and the appointments to those Committees consist only of Labour MPs at a cost of more than £1 million of taxpayers’ money? Does that not make a mockery of modernisation, demonstrating, as the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) said, that the sooner we get a change of Government to restore the powers of this House, the better?

The hon. Gentleman has lost this debate on three occasions and he is going to lose it again. I understood his question to be a bid for him to sit on the regional Select Committee for the south-west—[Interruption.] If he does not want to sit on it, that is a shame because the regional Committees will do a very important job, holding people who spend significant amounts of taxpayers’ money to account, ensuring parliamentary scrutiny of expenditure.

I was interested to hear what the Deputy Leader of the House had to say about his command paper and I wonder whether it amounts to the proposals that the Leader of the House said only last week she would like to talk about with me and the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan)—with no such discussions yet taking place. Is it not the case that, in reality, no progress on proper modernisation of the House’s procedures has been made? Indeed, the Government have been retrogressive in their increasing use of bullying programme motions, reductions in time so that Bills are not properly scrutinised and their inability to organise our business to the satisfaction of all Members of the House rather than that of the Executive?

Conservative Members should not agree with the hon. Gentleman, who is a very unfair gentleman. Last week, he called for proposals on better scrutiny of Government expenditure, and we have today made some suggestions on how we might achieve that. We are happy to consult on them; it is merely a command paper, so legislation would not necessarily have to follow. It would be nicer of him—in fact, it would be nice if he was nice occasionally—if he came before the House to say thank you for the changes we are proposing that will make for better and more effective scrutiny of the Government.

“The Governance of Britain” document says that the Executive should be more accountable to Parliament, yet the Government have refused to ensure that the noble Lord Mandelson is answerable to Members in this House. At a time when thousands and thousands of businesses are in a desperate state, why is it that the Government will not allow the unelected Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to be answerable to elected Members in this House?

That is a load of poppycock. For a start, all Ministers appear before Select Committees and the hon. Gentleman undervalues the role of Select Committees when he says that noble peers are not able to appear at all. Secondly, I have never heard from him or any Conservative Member the suggestion that peers should be able to answer questions in this House, although some Labour Members have called for that. It would be a significant departure, but it seemed to be what he was calling for. Now he is looking rather shamefaced about it.