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Parliamentary Scrutiny

Volume 491: debated on Thursday 23 April 2009

1. How many Report stages of Bills there were in the 2007-08 Session; and in what proportion of these all selected amendments were debated. (270324)

There were 27 Report stages in 2007-08, of which 24 were on Government Bills. In seven of those cases, all the groups of selected amendments were debated. That represents a proportion of about one in four.

The Deputy Leader of the House was a well-respected and highly regarded parliamentarian before he was plucked from the Back Benches and put on to the Front Bench. Not many people are listening today, so will he say what his personal view is? It really is not good enough—scrutiny is not great enough and the Government are failing.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the kind comments he made. On Shakespeare’s birthday, perhaps I could say that some have greatness thrust upon them.

All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that there is no difference between my Back-Bench view and my Front-Bench view. I believe that many Members confuse the difference between Committee stage and Report stage. Many members of the Procedure Committee have told me that they would much prefer a system involving time limits on speeches on Report, although I am not sure that that is the right way to go. We would like to consider all amendments, but as he perfectly well knows, many amendments tabled on Report are a response to Committee requests from Opposition Members, so I think that that shows the system is working.

But it transparently is not working. Only a couple of months ago, Mr. Speaker, you intervened to allow a vote on a matter that a lot of Members felt was important, without any discussion at all. Does that not in itself illustrate the fact that we are failing to debate matters that Members of the House think are important, and instead conforming to a timetable devised by the Government Whips that reflects the Government’s interests and not those of Back Benchers? Is it not the duty of the Deputy Leader of the House and the Leader of the House to ensure that matters that Members want to debate on Report are debated properly?

My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House and I try our level best to make sure that there is adequate time for all the subjects that all Members want to debate. Just because one Member wants to debate one issue does not necessarily mean that he wants to prevent other people from debating other issues. In particular, the hon. Gentleman knows very well that on the day to which he refers, Members from the Government Whips’ office and I, and Members from his own team, were in lengthy discussions about how we could make sure that we had proper debate of every single item. Furthermore, on that Bill, there were two days for Report. My right hon. and learned Friend and I are keen to try to make sure that happens on every occasion, but we will not be able to achieve perfection.

In her very first business questions on 5 July 2007, at Hansard column 1091, the Leader of the House said that she was very keen to ensure that Back Benchers’ rights were protected and that there was proper scrutiny of legislation. However, as we have just heard, that simply is not happening, so even now, will the Deputy Leader of the House give an assurance that his right hon. and learned Friend’s original pledge will be honoured? Perhaps the right hon. and learned Lady could start by ensuring that instead of curtailing legislation she curtails our ever-lengthening summer recess.

I remember my right hon. and learned Friend’s comments on her first day as Leader of the House, and I know from every single week that she has been in that post that she has been trying to make sure that we have adequate debate on every single amendment. It is not always perfection. We strive, and we have constant discussions. If Members are ever unhappy with the process all they need to do is to come round and talk to my right hon. and learned Friend or me to see whether there are ways of making more space and time available. As the hon. Gentleman knows, quite often the discussions between the usual channels are not necessarily reflected in the comments that are then made from the Opposition Front Bench.