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Legislative Timetable

Volume 730: debated on Thursday 6 October 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have any proposals to review and revise their legislative timetable.

My Lords, like every other Government before us, we intend to enact the legislative programme set out in the Queen’s Speech by the end of the Session. We have no plans to review that objective.

Does the Leader of the House accept that there is concern in all parts of the House, including among his own Back-Benchers, about the amount of ill-drafted legislation being presented, resulting in Bills being withdrawn or changed? The situation has been made increasingly complicated, in ways which we all understand, by deals that have to be done within the coalition, which makes it more difficult to compromise after the event. However, does that not mean that it is vital that the Government go the extra mile to liaise with the other political parties and Cross-Benchers in this House to deliver an outcome that gets us through? Otherwise this House will be sitting on Christmas Eve, and we all know it.

My Lords, I was not aware of the noble Lord’s concerns. However, he is entirely right that the Government wish to go the extra mile with our own Benches, with coalition partners, Cross-Benchers and, indeed, with members of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition, and that is precisely what we do. That is one reason why we spend so much time on legislation. Noble Lords will remember the 20 days in Committee that we spent on the PVSC Bill earlier this year. I wonder whether they feel that that time was well spent.

Exactly two years ago, on 5 October 2009, at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, the then shadow Leader of the House of Commons, now its Leader, Sir George Young, stated:

“Conservatives will legislate less, but we will also legislate better. So today I can announce that we will abolish the practice of automatically guillotining government bills”.

Why have Sir George and the Government broken those two promises?

My Lords, on the first point, I am delighted to tell my noble friend that in the first Session of the last Labour Administration, in 2005-06, 4,005 pages of legislation were enacted. So far this Session, which is longer than the 2005-06 one, we have passed only 1,392 pages of legislation. As for automatic timetabling in another place, that is up to the procedures there. However, I understand that most of that timetabling is agreed with the Opposition, very often without a vote.

Does the noble Lord the Leader of the House consider that it might help both Houses if legislation were drafted at an earlier stage? At present, I understand that departments of state receive a budget for parliamentary counsel to start drafting only when they have a guarantee that such legislation will be in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech. That is too late, and I believe that we might have better drafted legislation that we could deal with more expeditiously if that were changed. It does not require legislation to change it.

My Lords, I broadly agree with the noble Baroness. She will welcome the fact that the Government are committed to promoting other forms of scrutiny and have already published a number of Bills for pre-legislative scrutiny in this Session alone. We are currently scrutinising in pre-legislative scrutiny some six Bills, including clauses relating to individual electoral registration and electoral administration.

In relation to the PVSC Bill, I suggest that noble Lords may wish to look at comments made recently by the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, on the boundary proposals. Many noble Lords, and certainly colleagues down the Corridor, might think that we did a jolly good job in this House.

Does the Leader of the House agree that it is preferable for this House to sit in the same weeks as the House of Commons? We are two Houses but one Parliament. Can we have the noble Lord’s assurance that next year we will not sit during party conference weeks? To do otherwise is not good for the smooth running of business, not good for Parliament and not good for politics. Some of us in this House are proud to be politicians and we wish to participate in our party conferences.

My Lords, I have received a number of representations from noble Lords all around the House who are very opposed to sitting in September and would infinitely prefer to sit earlier in October and sometimes even later in July. That is something that it is right for the usual channels to discuss. Of course we are one Parliament. We are also two Houses. We have different rules and regulations and are not the same in that respect. We deal with legislation very differently.

My Lords, can my noble friend the Leader of the House give some indication of the progress of his consideration, and that of the Government, of the recommendations of his group on the working practices of the House, which gave some consideration to the programming of Bills in another place and made some suggestions that might help to ease the pressure and enhance the careful deliberation on these Bills?

My Lords, I am glad to say that the Procedure Committee will be meeting on 24 October and a number of the proposals made by my noble friend’s group, the Leader’s Group on Working Practices, will be debated and then brought to the House, hopefully for agreement.

My Lords, would the noble Lord the Leader of the House agree that it would be a very good idea if the usual channels would not do what they did recently over the Armed Forces Bill and make an agreement that matters discussed on Report would not be voted on until Third Reading? This is not in keeping with what the Companion says, nor is it particularly acceptable that we should be told that this is a one-off that does not set a precedent. When you do something you set a precedent and the only question that is open after that is whether it is going to be followed. My fear is that this could be followed because we have opened a door that should have been kept closed.

I agree with the noble Lord: I have never accepted this line that something is not a precedent when it so clearly is, and I would not have used that argument. Of course, usual channels make agreements on a whole range of matters in relation to how we deal with business on a daily basis. That is for the benefit of the House as a whole and for good order in the House, and I think that was so with the recent decision that took place earlier on this week.