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Pre-legislative Scrutiny

Volume 514: debated on Monday 26 July 2010

The Government will continue to publish Bills in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny as opportunities arise. We have already announced that three Bills—on parliamentary privilege, House of Lords reform and defamation—will be published in draft.

During last Thursday’s business questions, the Leader of the House told me that pre-legislative scrutiny was “not possible” for all constitutional Bills in the first term of a Parliament. Has the hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to read the words of Professor Robert Blackburn, Professor Robert Hazell and Peter Riddell, who say that there is no justification for rushing through without pre-legislative scrutiny the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill when we return in September, other than the political expediency of the two coalition partners?

Well, that is their opinion. It is perfectly clear that it is not possible for Bills to be produced in time to allow full pre-legislative scrutiny in the first 10 weeks of a new Government when those Bills are to be debated in the very near future; I would have thought that that was obvious to any Member of this House. We are clearly committed to using pre-legislative scrutiny whenever possible, but I repeat that it is clear that, with a new Government and a new House of Commons, there will be new Bills that cannot go through that procedure.

The Deputy Leader of the House will be aware that in the previous Parliament many Bills were almost totally rewritten during their passage through the House. In due course, after the Government have had time to write their Bills, will the Deputy Leader of the House be able to say that pre-legislative scrutiny will be the norm, and not the exception, for a Bill in this Parliament?

The hon. Gentleman makes the important point that what is most important is that Bills are written correctly and are made right first time, rather than having them rewritten, as was so often the case under the previous Administration. [Interruption.] We hear protestations from Opposition Members, but may I remind them that in the 2009-10 Session only five Bills were submitted for pre-legislative scrutiny and in the 2008-09 Session there were only four, whereas we have already announced three.

The Deputy Leader of the House referred to someone’s opinion about pre-legislative scrutiny. What does he think of the opinion that all Bills should be given 12 weeks of pre-legislative scrutiny? That was the opinion of his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, writing to the Liaison Committee last week. Is it not a travesty of the processes of this House that my Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform has only been able to squeeze in a maximum of three sessions to look at two very important Bills? Will the Deputy Leader of the House not cite past precedent, but try to set future precedent to do this job properly?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s Committee will do an excellent job in looking at those Bills as they are taken forward. The critical period is between Second Reading and Committee, when Members consider amendments that they may wish to table. I hope that his Committee will take full advantage of that period by having as many sittings as he requires in order to do that work.