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Leader of the House

Volume 527: debated on Thursday 28 April 2011

The Leader of the House was asked—

Ministerial Statements

1. If he will bring forward proposals to implement the recommendations of the Procedure Committee relating to ministerial statements. (52651)

I have sent the Government’s response on its report to the Procedure Committee, which will be published in due course. It would be for the Backbench Business Committee to find time to debate proposals to reform ministerial statements.

Under the last Government, it was routine for ministerial statements to be leaked to the press. There was a media grid and they were leaked, before a statement was made, in a routine manner. Unfortunately, that has continued under this Government. Until we have sanctions against Ministers for leaking, we will never get the problem under control. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether he thinks the proposals of the Procedure Committee go far enough?

I recall the sanctions that my hon. Friend mentioned in his speech of 20 July: one was to string Ministers up from the roof and the other was to put them in stocks in Parliament square. I think even the Whips would agree that that was going slightly over the top. The Government’s view is that there are enough sanctions at the moment. A Minister can be summoned to the House in response to an urgent question; he can be grilled by a departmental Select Committee; and, under the arrangements we have just introduced, the Backbench Business Committee can table a motion for debate, including a motion deploring a Minister’s behaviour. Our view is that enough sanctions are already available.

May I remind my right hon. Friend that the circumstances surrounding the preparation of this report were rather unusual in that it was, in effect, commissioned by the House, following a debate and a motion before the Chamber, which he supported? One does expect the Government to be accommodating on this matter. In an attempt to move this issue forward, may I invite him to return to the Procedure Committee for further discussions—hopefully sooner rather than later?

I would be delighted to respond to my right hon. Friend’s invitation and attend his Committee at the earliest possible convenience.

House Procedures

2. If he will assess the merits of the provision of training on the procedures of the House for hon. Members who are former Ministers. (52652)

The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) has spoken only once in this Chamber in the past year—

Order. I simply want to establish that the hon. Gentleman has notified the Member in question because that is the proper course of action. It needs to be made clear to the House, rather than simply privately, that that has been done.

Order. Let me repeat the point. It is not a matter of private communication, but the responsibility of the Member to notify the House that the Member in question has been notified. Private considerations and communications do not come into it.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

That was in stark contrast to the former Prime Minister, Sir John Major, who used to speak monthly after he stood down. You will know, Mr Speaker, that yesterday saw the installation of the official photo of the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath in No. 10 Downing street. I wonder whether my hon. Friend would agree to acquire a copy of the photo for identification purposes to use in this Chamber in case the former Prime Minister decides to come down and participate.

I am not sure that we necessarily need to go into that. I did see the picture and thought it looked rather nice; there was almost a smile. On the serious issue of training for former Ministers, I am sure that support could be made available if it were requested, and it might be welcomed, because when people leave office they often find that they forget some things.

Pre-legislative Scrutiny

3. What plans he has for pre-legislative scrutiny of legislation proposed by the Government; and if he will make a statement. (52653)

The Government have made clear our intention to improve the quality of legislation. We have already published the draft Defamation Bill and two draft Detention of Terrorist Subjects (Temporary Extensions) Bills. We have also informed the Liaison Committee of our intention to invite pre-legislative scrutiny on the Financial Services Bill, the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill, the House of Lords Bill, the Parliamentary Privilege Bill, and the Political Reform Bill.

I welcome that reply, but can I establish that the Government intend all Government legislation to be published in draft as well as, later, in substantive form for the remainder of the current Parliament, so that pre-legislative scrutiny can take place all the time? That is clearly the best practice.

We are committed to publishing Bills in draft whenever possible, but the aspiration to publish more of next Session’s potential Bills in draft must be balanced against the need to devote sufficient resources to getting this Session’s Bills right. We hope to increase the proportion of Bills published in draft during the current Parliament, and by the end of this Session we expect to have published more Bills in draft than the average number under the last Administration.

As the Government are so keen on pre-legislative scrutiny, can the dear Deputy Leader explain why they did not use the procedure in the case of the Health and Social Care Bill? Would that not have had numerous advantages? It would have prevented the Government from introducing legislation that had not been thought through, it would have allowed the Liberal Democrats to pretend that they were being listened to, and, more important, it might have saved the NHS. Will the hon. Gentleman now apologise for that abject failure, and ensure that the House is given proper time to debate the amendments to the Bill when the Government present them?

I rather like the idea of being a dear Leader, or a dear Deputy Leader. I think it lends a certain cachet to the office.

The serious response to the hon. Lady’s question is that, with a new Administration, it is inevitable that some Bills will not receive pre-legislative scrutiny because they must be put into action. In the case of the Bill that she mentioned, however, a period of reflection is now being entered into, and I think that it will be extremely valuable. It will ensure that we hear the advice of everyone who is concerned with getting the Bill right.

Politics (Cost Reductions)

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Deputy Prime Minister on the implications for the House of Commons of the Government’s programme for reducing the cost of politics. (52654)

The Leader of the House and I regularly discuss such issues with ministerial colleagues. Since the general election the Government have cut ministerial pay by 5%, steered through legislation that will reduce the size of the House of Commons, cut the cost of special advisers, and scrapped the use of dedicated ministerial cars in all but exceptional cases. The House has played its part, with Members agreeing to the freezing of their salaries, and the Commission is overseeing a programme to save at least 17% by 2014-15 while ensuring that the House remains able to scrutinise the Executive effectively.

I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for that answer, and particularly for his comment about ministerial cars. Like many other people, I believe that if we take care of the pennies, the pounds take care of themselves. Will the Deputy Leader of the House say a little more about the impact of the change in the ministerial cars system?

As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, on 24 May 2010 the Government announced that in all but exceptional cases Ministers would no longer have dedicated cars and drivers. That is not to say that no cars are ever used—there are times when Ministers require the use of a car—but I think I can modestly say that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I set something of an example in that we hardly, if ever, use ministerial cars: we prefer to use our bikes or walk.

If Members of Parliament base their staff in their constituencies they must pay rent, rates and telephone, heating, lighting and photocopying bills, but if they base their staff at the House of Commons, all those assets come as a free resource. Will the Deputy Leader of the House consult representatives of the other parties, and try to find a way in which to get rid of the perverse incentive to base staff in London, where they cost the public purse rather more?

I am always happy to discuss such matters with anyone, but that is now a matter for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. It is certainly not a matter for Government.