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Mr. Benn: In the light of the experience of the Privileges Committee, to which the Leader of the House refers, has he given any further thought to the advantages to Parliament's reputation of such Committees being open so that the debates can be heard, a point that I made a year ago and for which I paid a heavy price? I believe that the time has come when the openness of such Select Committees should be seriously considered.

Mr. Newton: Obviously enough, I and, no doubt, many others have given further thought to that point. I draw a distinction between the question whether evidence should be taken in public under certain circumstances and the question whether deliberation should take place in public. I think that, far from being enhanced, the role of the Committees would be destroyed were meetings to be wholly held in public.

Certainly the hon. Member for Dewsbury will agree that we teased out, eventually successfully, the vast majority of the subject matter, such as the appointment of the parliamentary commissioner, the code, the new Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, the ban on advocacy and a whole range of what was agreed by the House a fortnight ago. Had we sought to achieve that unanimity on the basis of having everything openly reported and available--every exchange and every modification--it would not have worked. We would have ended up with a totally different and far less satisfactory way in which to proceed.

I make this point even without being able to prove it by revealing the proceedings beyond what I have said just now. Anybody who had been able to listen to the exchanges, assuming that they could have been entirely

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confidential and that the presence of a listener would not have inhibited them, which of course it would have done, would have thought that it was an example of all the parties in Parliament at their best, working in the interests of Parliament as a whole. The results demonstrate that.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North): My right hon. Friend talks about unanimity in the Committee. Sometimes when that happens, the House should be put on its guard. In the event, we had a three-hour debate and most of the people who spoke in that debate were either members of the Committee or related to the subject. Back Benchers or others who might have had a different point of view had no time to bring their points of view forward. When next a Select Committee has debates and produces recommendations, will my right hon. Friend give the House an undertaking that there will be proper time for people who have not been members of that Committee to put their points of view in a debate?

Mr. Newton: I always give consideration to such representations. I do not think that I can make an advance commitment without knowing what my hon. Friend might be talking about. Is he, for example, talking about a report that might come from the new Select Committee on Standards and Privileges? I assure him that I shall bear in mind what he has said, because I know that he reflects the views of other hon. Members as well.

I now touch on one other point which is more clearly for the Government as such, but which is very much directed towards improving the working of Parliament in relation to legislation. I know that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) is interested in this point. I refer to the publication of Bills in draft so that those who may be affected by them have a good opportunity to comment not only on the policy, but on the detail and practical effect of proposed legislation. That proved helpful in the Session before last, in the case, albeit a rather special one, of the Sunday Trading Bill, and with the Environment Agency provisions of the Environment Act 1995. In the previous Session--the hon. Member for Dewsbury kindly referred to this--we published draft Bills on the reserve forces, on defamation and on arbitration, all of which we hope to bring before the House this Session.

More recently we published drafts of the Hong Kong (Overseas Public Servants) Bill and the Chemical Weapons Bill, which the House will consider tomorrow. Inevitably, it will not be possible for every Bill to be published in draft, but I have no doubt that, where timing and other considerations make it practicable and appropriate, that practice can greatly contribute to the quality of the legislation that the House passes.

As the Government said in the second competitiveness White Paper, which has been waved about in a different context several times today:

The White Paper made it clear that we hope to move further in that direction and to increase the number of Bills published in draft in advance. I can tell the House, and I think that it has not been said before, that, in the current Session, and in the spirit of the White Paper, we intend to publish draft Bills on adoption, building societies and merchant shipping.

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Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney): The right hon. Gentleman has made a strong case for publishing draft Bills, to enable people to consider them and to contribute before they become final. Given the obvious controversy surrounding the Asylum and Immigration Bill, does he not think that it would be a suitable candidate for publishing in draft before the final Bill is presented?

Mr. Newton: Perhaps rather delphically, I used a phrase about "where timing and other considerations make it practicable and appropriate". The figures that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary gave in his statement the other day, and no doubt used in his speech on Monday, make it clear that the rapid and almost dramatic escalation in the problem suggests that it is one that must be tackled more urgently than would be allowed for by the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore).

Sir David Mitchell (North-West Hampshire): Does my right hon. Friend see scope for applying the principle to Euro-regulations and directives?

Mr. Newton: As for legislation initiated in Europe, that question would not fall to me as Leader of the House in this Parliament. I have been concerned notably with social security legislation, and moves have already been made to publish secondary legislation in draft, for example, for consultation with the Social Security Advisory Committee. Where practicable, and where it would genuinely help to improve the legislative process, I would like consideration to be given to such publication in draft, in appropriate cases.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is one thing to refer Law Commission reports to a Special Standing Committee, as he mentioned earlier, but quite another to do as the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) said, and refer such a controversial Bill as the Asylum and Immigration Bill to such a Committee?

Mr. Newton: The hon. Member for Dewsbury referred to that suggestion, which has been the subject of much argument in the House in the past few days and correspondence between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. I basically agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman), but I do not want to add to the argument tonight, despite the blandishments of the hon. Member for Dewsbury.

The hon. Member for Dewsbury unhelpfully anticipated another point that I wanted to raise, which takes me back to the spirit of Jopling--in this case, the earlier notification of recess dates. The House may like to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise at the conclusion of business on Wednesday 20 December until Tuesday 9 January. At Easter, again subject to the progress of business, the House will rise at the conclusion of business on Wednesday 3 April until Tuesday 16 April. That of course means that the recess this year will cover the week after Easter rather than the week before, as it did last Session. I hope that that is helpful to the House and that I may claim my brownie points. However, whatever else is obvious today, it is obvious that there is a good deal of debate to come on many issues before we get as far as the Christmas recess, let alone Easter, and it is to some of those arguments that I shall now refer.

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I start by referring to the speech of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown)--or rather, the annual re-run of the same speech, to which I always listen with interest, if only in hope, which has so far always proved vain, of hearing something new. That familiar but not especially friendly speech has two characteristics. First, it relentlessly runs the country down and ignores every achievement. The second characteristic is that, having said that everything is wrong, the hon. Gentleman says nothing whatever about what he would do about it. In both respects, he played true to form today.

We heard much about unemployment, which we all want to reduce and which we have reduced by 700,000, but not a word about the extent to which the country has effectively the best record in Europe in reducing unemployment and in putting the biggest proportion of its population into work.

We heard many references to people who are less well-off and vulnerable, but not a word about the tens of thousands of people being helped by disability living allowance, introduced by the present Government, the more than £1 billion extra in real terms put into helping low-income families since 1988 and another £1 billion put into helping the less well-off pensioners.

We heard much about the need for investment--which the Chancellor countered with some striking figures showing how much better our record was than many others--but not a word about the country's record in attracting inward investment, obtaining one third of all investment into the European Union from outside, which embraced 41 per cent. of that from Japan, 43 per cent. of that from the United States and 50 per cent. of that from Korea.

To cap it all, we heard--from a Labour Front-Bench spokesman--about the lurch to the right. The most that can be said about that is that at least it is something of which Labour Front-Bench Members have some first-hand experience--but for how long? I do not know, because we can see the faces on the Labour Benches below the Gangway when hon. Members speak from the Labour Front Bench. We can also see the faces on the Labour Back Benches when hon. Members speak from the Labour Front Bench.

I make no apology for repeating what my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said this afternoon, when he quoted the striking words of the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott):

[Interruption.] What, "Hear, hear" from below the Gangway? Does the hon. Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis) want to intervene?

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