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Leader of the House

Volume 501: debated on Thursday 26 November 2009

The Leader of the House was asked—

Programming (Bills)

24. How many clauses of Bills were not debated as a result of the provisions of programme orders in the 2008-09 Session. (301689)

All parts of a Bill are subject to parliamentary scrutiny at all stages of its passage. In many cases, Bills also undergo pre-legislative scrutiny. Elements of a Bill that are not debated in detail at one stage may clearly be considered at another stage and, in any event, may be divided on. It is therefore difficult to say with certainty which clauses of a Bill were not considered at all as a result of programming, but in Public Bill Committees no clauses were not reached for debate.

No, I am not. The important thing is the last point that I made—that, in Public Bill Committees, there were no clauses that were not reached for debate.

Will the hon. Lady give thought to the suggestion from the noble Lord Rooker that, when a Bill has been inadequately discussed or not discussed at all in this place, a certificate should accompany it when it is sent to the other place? In that way, the other place can know which parts of the Bill have not been discussed or need to be discussed more fully.

Many of the things that we are talking about this morning in respect of reforming how Bills progress through the House are under consideration at the moment, but I do not think that there is anything specific on that particular recommendation. However, the other place knows how much debate on a Bill there has been here, so the process that has been described does tend to happen anyway.

The Deputy Leader of the House should know that Government new clauses and amendments are not discussed in Public Bill Committees—clearly they cannot be, because they are moved after that stage. The Library has told me that, on four Bills alone, nearly 200 amendments, including 50 Government new clauses and amendments, were not scrutinised. Does she accept that we cannot go on like this? The Wright Committee has set out a way to avoid the problem so that we do not have to demonise Government and the Government do not have to infantilise Members of this House.

We have had a number of exchanges this morning about the Reform of the House of Commons Committee. We have had the Committee’s report for two days, and we will be considering the recommendations in it that relate to the hon. Gentleman’s question.

Select Committee Reports

26. What plans she has to allow more time for consideration of Select Committee reports by the House. (301691)

The Government have already created additional opportunities for debating Select Committee reports by establishing sittings in Westminster Hall. That provided an extra 52 hours of debating time for Select Committee reports in 2008-09. I should like to remind the House that the Government will always consider requests from Select Committees for a tag on the Order Paper for any Government business that may be relevant to their work.

The Minister knows perfectly well that, since we have had a Labour Government, it has been practically impossible to scrutinise anything other than through the Select Committee procedure. Will she now agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and give more time to debating Select Committee reports on the Floor of the House?

It is always open to the Chairs of Select Committees to ask for a topical debate when they produce a report, given that such reports are often topical. That would be a way to give more time to Select Committee reports, over and above the extra sitting hours and days that arise from debating them in Westminster Hall.

When Select Committee reports come before Westminster Hall, they are very often timetabled in a way that makes proper debate impossible. The most recent Health Committee report came before us right on the edge of Prorogation: instead of having a proper three-hour debate on inequalities in health, we had to try to work out when the House was going to rise. We lost half of our debate because of Prorogation and we did not have enough time, so is it possible to bring the report back for further consideration?

As I have just said, it always open for Select Committee Chairs to ask for topical debates. If a debate is unfortunately chopped about because of voting around Prorogation, I am sure that the Leader of the House would be open to looking at that.