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Leader of the House

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 7 November 2013

The Leader of the House was asked—

Written Parliamentary Questions

2. What recent assessment he has made of the performance of each Government Department in answering written parliamentary questions. (900964)

My office collates departmental performance information for ordinary and named day parliamentary questions, which I submit for each Session to the Procedure Committee. I provided data on the last Session to that Committee in July, and those are available on the parliamentary website.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Department for Education remains the most poorly performing Department and is getting worse, and will he say what is being done about it?

The hon. Lady will be aware from information on the parliamentary website of the relative position of Departments, including the Department for Education. The Procedure Committee held evidence-taking sessions with the Secretary of State and the permanent secretary, and the Chair of the Procedure Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), has written to that Department. The context of that correspondence was that performance was poor but had improved in recent weeks. I stress that over the past Session, more Departments have increased their performance in responding to written questions than have deteriorated. It was possible, however, for the Department with the largest number of such questions—the Department of Health—to achieve a 99% response rate.

Pre-legislative Scrutiny

The Government are committed, wherever possible, to publishing draft legislation for pre-legislative scrutiny. We published 17 draft Bills or sets of draft measures in the last Session, which is more than any other Government in any Session.

Following last week’s announcement of a pause in proceedings on the reviled gagging Bill and the previous pause in the equally reviled Health and Social Care Bill, can the Leader of the House confirm whether this form of legislative coitus interruptus is becoming his preferred form of parliamentary planned parenthood?

Clearly it is not. As I have stated, we have a very good track record with the largest number of Bills in pre-legislative scrutiny of any Government in any Session. In relation to what has happened in the Lords, they wanted more time and that is exactly what the Government have provided.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that pre-legislative scrutiny allows consultation while legislation is more easily amended, and allows politicians and stakeholders to give their opinions? Will he commend the work of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, a joint Committee with the House of Lords, on the Deregulation Bill, which I have the honour to serve on?

I will certainly do that. Pre-legislative scrutiny is a very positive opportunity for stakeholders to contribute. As I stated, the Government have been very positive in providing those opportunities to a large number of stakeholders in no fewer than 17 draft Bills.

In the light of the completely unconvincing answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) by the Deputy Leader of the House, will he explain exactly how he plans to make use of this wonderful new parliamentary invention, the pause stage, to respond to widespread concerns about the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny of the provisions in the gagging Bill?

I am not quite sure what the hon. Lady means by “the gagging Bill”. If she is referring to the transparency Bill, she will be aware that the lobbying aspect did have pre-legislative scrutiny, and she should be aware that the Government have responded, for instance, to Select Committee reports on this subject and engaged with a very large number of organisations that have a strong interest in this Bill.

Private Members’ Bills

The Government are considering the recommendations contained in the report published by the Procedure Committee on 2 September and will respond shortly.

Will the Deputy Leader of the House join me in congratulating the Procedure Committee on an excellent report and consider implementing its recommendations for the timetabling of private Members’ Bills so that Back Benchers voices will be properly heard in this place?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on pursuing these matters as vigorously as he does in relation to private Members’ Bills. I am afraid that I am not in a position today to tell him that the Government have responded, but I can tell him that we will respond very shortly to the Procedure Committee’s report, and indeed it contains some sound and strong recommendations that I am sure we will want to consider carefully.

Is it not the case that if 100 MPs turn up for a closure motion on a Friday they can ensure the progress of any Bill, which is not a great number out of 650 if it has such widespread support? Hon. Members should not expect to turn up with some well-meaning claptrap and expect it to be nodded through just because it is a Friday.

Yes, my hon. Friend is right that the use of a closure motion and, indeed, timetabling is possible for private Members’ Bills, but it is also worth pointing out that the Procedure Committee has said in its report that it is not its intention to facilitate the passage of Bills into law, and that it should not be easy to see a private Member’s Bill become law.

Does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that regardless of the procedures used to deal with private Members’ Bills, such a Bill is extremely unlikely to reach the statute book unless it has the express or at least tacit approval of the Government?

I can assure my hon. Friend that there have been examples in the past—my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House secured a private Member’s Bill in opposition—so there are opportunities even for Opposition Members to push private Members’ Bills through, although clearly having the support of the Government is helpful.


5. When the Government plan to respond to the e-petition created by the hon. Member for Bolton North East on grass-roots football. (900967)

The delay in response to the hon. Gentleman’s query was unacceptable, as has been acknowledged. However, I can confirm that a response has now been published on the Government e-petitions site. Petitions that reach the 10,000 signature threshold should receive a response from the Government within 30 days.

I did indeed receive a response to my petition just after midnight on Tuesday morning, within hours of this oral question being published—two facts that I am sure are not remotely connected.

On a serious point, given the billions of pounds available from football on television, will the Government put pressure on the Football Association to spend more of that money on grass-roots football, especially for children, as opposed to even more outrageous wages for top professional footballers?

I am not sure that that is a question for a Deputy Leader of the House, but I will ensure that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is aware of the hon. Gentleman’s concern. I would certainly echo his suggestion, however, that we need strong investment in grass-roots football. He might be aware that the Premier League will be investing about £168 million in grass-roots football over the next three years, which is something that hon. Members on both sides of the House would want to encourage it to do.