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Leader of the House

Volume 556: debated on Thursday 17 January 2013

The Leader of the House was asked—


We have received confirmation of the Procedure Committee’s decision to undertake an inquiry into programming together with a request to set out the Government’s views. We will submit our views shortly.

Given how light the Government’s legislative programme is, does the right hon. Gentleman think that now is the time to consider whether we can debate private Members’ Bills not only on Fridays but on other days of the week, rather than having the countless pointless debates that we currently have to endure?

I am surprised that the hon. Lady considers that the Government have a light programme; that is certainly not the view on the Government Benches. The House has expressed a view on private Members’ Bills. It has thought it appropriate to leave them where they are.

When the Leader of the House and his deputy prepare their evidence, will they consider holding the Committee stage of the Bill on equal marriage on the Floor of the House?

I thank the hon. Lady for that question about a matter that has been raised before. The Government want to allow suitable scrutiny of the Bill and I am sure that the Government will provide it.

Public Reading Stages

We have conducted pilot public reading stages for the Protection of Freedoms Bill and the Small Charitable Donations Bill, and an online consultation was conducted on the draft Care and Support Bill.

Following evaluation, I have today informed the House in a written ministerial statement that public reading stages will form part of a tool kit to consider legislation on a case-by-case basis. I hope we will continue to improve public engagement in the legislative process—for example, through pre-legislative scrutiny and evidence sessions in Public Bill Committees rather than by adopting a uniform approach to legislation.

I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s response and congratulate him and his predecessor on the great innovations in this Parliament to make this place more relevant to the people who sent us here. I urge that we use the new tool in our tool kit as often as we can.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, with whom I share an appreciation of my predecessor. Over the past two and a half years, the House has made considerable progress in engaging the public directly with legislation. We can do that through a number of routes. Sometimes, pre-legislative scrutiny on draft legislation or evidence sessions before Public Bill Committees are very effective, and public reading stages are a further option. We do not want to specify in relation to any particular legislation that all those things must be applied, but we have the mechanisms to engage the public more fully.

Private Members’ Bills

6. What recent consideration he has given to the procedure for private Members’ Bills; and if he will make a statement. (137527)

Hon. Members will be aware that the Procedure Committee is undertaking an inquiry into the procedure for private Members’ Bills. My hon. Friend gave evidence to the Committee yesterday and raised a number of issues relating to the timing procedures and motivation for private Members’ Bills. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will give evidence on behalf of the Government in due course.

As a tool for prompting dialogue and discussion or for the furtherance of a parliamentary campaign, private Members’ Bills are really useful, but many Members think that the way in which Friday sittings work is little short of a farce. Should programming and the tools used for Government legislation be applied to private Members’ legislation, to enable votes to take place and more legislation to be passed?

Many Members have experienced some frustrations regarding the private Members’ Bill process. I know that the hon. Gentleman has made a suggestion to the Procedure Committee along the lines of his question, but he will be aware that existing procedures of the House allow for a closure to be sought on debates and to impose time limits on speeches. He will be aware that sometimes when a Member presents a private Member’s Bill there will be other ways of ensuring that it is reflected in Government legislation, in the way that his proposed measures on children and families will be reflected in that Bill.

Government Bills (Report Stage)

7. Whether he has considered guaranteeing a minimum amount of time for the consideration of Government Bills at Report stage. (137528)

This Government recognise the value of parliamentary scrutiny of legislation. We have provided more days than the previous Administration for Report stages and, where necessary, we will provide more than one day for Report stage.

I recognise the Government’s commitment to better scrutiny of legislation, but one of the perennial frustrations, under all Governments, is that we get to Report stage and the allocated time is used up by urgent questions or statements and we end up with almost no time to do the job of the House. Will Ministers look at changing that so that we have injury time for any time lost because of earlier business?

I understand my right hon. Friend’s point. The Government have sought to address his concerns by providing more time on Report, but he might want to consider making a submission to the Procedure Committee, which is looking at programming. I am sure that the Government will want to consider his submission, along with others, when the report is published.

Sitting Hours

8. What assessment he has made of the effect of the introduction of new sitting hours on managing the business of the House. (137529)

I think the Deputy Leader of the House should make an assessment but should not listen to those who are calling for private Members’ Bills to brought into the middle of the week. Would it not be a ludicrous outcome if those who argued for our hours to move to earlier in the evening were then to vote for private Members’ Bills to be discussed after 7 o’clock so that the hours were extended from 11.30 am to 10 pm instead of running from 2.30 pm to 10 pm, which is what applied before?

Clearly, the House has made a decision in relation to sitting hours, but the Procedure Committee is looking at the matter, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s concerns will be taken on board as part of that process.

Policy Announcements

9. What recent discussions he has had with his ministerial colleagues on the requirements of the ministerial code relating to making policy announcements to the House before the media. (137530)

The ministerial code is clear:

“When Parliament is in session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance, in Parliament.”

I regularly remind my colleagues of this.

We know from the Government’s relaunch that they are planning to make 12 policy announcements over the next 12 weeks. Will the Leader of the House assure us that those announcements will be made first to the House of Commons, and that there will penalties if that does not happen?

I reiterate to the House and to the hon. Lady that the ministerial code is clear and that I regularly remind my colleagues of it. It is our intention and our practice that the most important announcements of Government policy be made in the first instance to Parliament. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is saying from a sedentary position that I am inaccurate. I have quoted directly the ministerial code to him and to the House.