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Parliamentary Calendar

Volume 517: debated on Monday 25 October 2010

3. What proposals he plans to put to the House in respect of the structure of the parliamentary calendar for the remainder of the current Session. (18988)

5. What proposals he plans to put to the House in respect of the structure of the parliamentary calendar for the remainder of the current Session. (18990)

7. What proposals he plans to put to the House in respect of the structure of the parliamentary calendar for the remainder of the current Session. (18992)

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House announced the proposed parliamentary calendar until the end of 2011 last Thursday at the commencement of business questions, and I hope right hon. and hon. Members will have had the opportunity to pick up a copy.

I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for that answer, which will allow me and many colleagues in the House to plan our next few months in our constituencies. Can he help me plan the next four and a half years in my constituency, by giving the House an update on the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have had the Second Reading of that Bill. It should go into Committee shortly. I hope it will be able to make speedy progress, given the degree of consensus that exists across the House, and we hope it will receive Royal Assent at the earliest opportunity.

Does my hon. Friend agree that plans to reform the parliamentary calendar will enhance the ability of the House to scrutinise and debate effectively the Government’s proposed legislation for this Session?

It is important that the House has the fullest possible opportunity to hold the Government to account. One of the difficulties that we had previously when the House did not sit in September was that there was a large part of the year when the actions of Ministers could not be scrutinised by the House. My answer to the hon. Gentleman is yes, I do think that is the case, but we can still do better. That is why I am convinced that we should continue the discussion about how we can best organise the parliamentary calendar to enable the House to do its job as effectively as possible.

Does my hon. Friend agree that if we have more transparency and clarity in the calendar, it will stop giving the impression, which we may have got with the previous Government, of legislation being railroaded through?

I agree entirely. If we can make sure that plenty of days are allocated for, for instance, the Committee and Report stages of Bills, which the Government have been committed to doing, and if we can ensure that the House uses that time sensibly and adopts a rational approach to the important things that need to be debated at length and those that may not need to be debated at quite such length, the House can start to look like a grown-up legislature able to do its job effectively.

But is it not the case that even in the timetable that has been announced, we still have an extremely long summer recess in which Ministers will not be held to account in the House? Would it not be sensible if, instead of running days on unpredictably until late at night, we used more days during the summer to hold the Government to account, rather than holding them to account between 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock at night?

The hon. Lady has expressed that view before. I do not entirely agree that we have an overlong summer recess, with the September sittings. That makes a huge difference to the way in which the House does its business. I also do not entirely agree that sittings are unpredictable. Where we have provided additional time, it has been in response to expected statements, to make sure that the House has protected time to do its business. We are constantly responding to the hon. Lady’s Front-Bench team demanding more time and longer sittings to scrutinise Bills effectively. We must get the right balance. We will look at the matter in more detail. The Procedure Committee has said that it will look at the calendar in the round, and she may want to give evidence to the Committee on her views.