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Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): Would it not be better if much more legislation were routed through the Select Committees, so that Select Committees could take evidence from those interested in particular subjects? Should we not try to ensure that the result is legislation that is much better than that which we have seen in the past?

Mrs. Taylor: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his constructive suggestion. I am coming precisely to his point. We all know that, far too often, legislation has to be amended because of practical difficulties and mistakes that could have been spotted and dealt with at the time of consideration. That is not, I think, the result of poor draftsmanship. Difficulties and mistakes often occur because of the political imperatives that stem from Governmentitis. It seems that Governments feel that they should never accept an amendment moved by an Opposition Member. All too often, there has been no scope for constructive criticism.

Mr. Forth: The House should not imagine that a previous Government were necessarily completely at fault for a failure properly to scrutinise legislation in Committee. Will the right hon. Lady accept that what happened in Standing Committees was largely under the control of the then Opposition, and that all too often time was wasted at the beginning of a Bill's consideration in Committee, with endless filibustering on the sittings motion, for example, with the result that the end of the time available for consideration came too soon in one sense, and some parts of the Bill received no consideration at all? We should consider that as well as the behaviour of the Government.

Mrs. Taylor: The hon. Gentleman's remarks might carry some weight were it not for the fact that I have served on Standing Committees with him. I was a member of a Committee on which he was the Minister. The Government, late in the day, came up with nearly 1,000 amendments on that Bill. I do not think that we, the Government, can take lectures on the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Has my right hon. Friend studied the Committee proceedings on the personal pensions legislation in 1986 and the Child Support Agency legislation--enactments that did no credit to the House? The problems that ensued--they were enormous because 2 million people were cheated on personal pensions, and we all know of the tragedies and injustices that resulted from the Child Support Agency--arose from the fact that the two major parties were confrontational. They did not listen to each other and there was no rational scrutiny of the enabling Bills. That is the type of scrutiny that we must introduce into a new system of pre-legislative inquiries.

Mrs. Taylor: My hon. Friend is anticipating the very points that I am about to make.

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It is rather obvious that a Government have the right to initiate legislation for which they have a mandate or when problems arise. Much of that legislation will be controversial and it will be promoted or forced through robustly; however, there are areas of legislation where there might be differences of approach or of priorities across the party divide, but where at the same time there is agreement on an objective, or where there is agreement that a certain problem needs to be tackled. My hon. Friend's example about pensions was extremely useful in highlighting that point.

There is scope for considering to what extent we would gain by having more Bills published in draft and, possibly, by having pre-legislative Committees to examine draft Bills or White Papers or--it is not the method that I would prefer--using departmental Select Committees. The use of such Committees is still worthy of consideration. These are the very issues that the proposed Committee might consider.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): I remind my right hon. Friend that a Special Standing Committee was set up three years ago, I think, to examine the Children (Scotland) Bill. The establishment of the Committee enabled us to cross-examine expert witnesses. It may be useful to reflect on the Standing Order--I think that it is Standing Order No. 91--that allows such a Committee to be created. That might be a useful way forward.

Mrs. Taylor: I agree. There were times during the previous Parliament when we, the then Opposition, suggested that very procedure. We were told, however, that it would not be acceptable. I think that we need to change our approach and to consider the approach that my hon. Friend has suggested in appropriate circumstances.

I am not saying that every Bill should receive consideration by pre-legislative Committees or a Special Standing Committee; that could cause unnecessary duplication and delay. We should, however, consider what is appropriate for each Bill, and Government and Parliament should be more willing to use the available options more freely. There should be more discussion about that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) mentioned the Child Support Agency. There was agreement on both sides of the House that something should be done and that fathers had a responsibility towards their children. The Bill was subject to the usual procedures, and I understand why the then Government wanted to act quickly. At the end of the day, however, the Bill was flawed. It satisfied no one and angered many. We all received the case load that proved that.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): I speak as a Chairman of Committees. I am always disturbed that Government Back-Bench Members, whichever party is in government, say virtually nothing. They have a contribution to make and Bills should be timetabled in such a way that Government as well as Opposition Back-Bench Members can make constructive contributions to debate.

Mrs. Taylor: There has to be a role for constructive contributions, and Back Benchers--and we have many of them--will be very dissatisfied if they are not allowed to make a constructive contribution.

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Had we scrutinised the Child Support Agency Bill differently, some of that scrutiny might have led to delay. In those circumstances, there are already provisions for the use of a rollover mechanism, but at the moment that is considered to be dreadful and something that should never happen. If we take a more mature approach and allow extra time for better scrutiny, we must consider whether we should move in that direction.

The Government are willing to acknowledge that more could be done by way of publishing draft Bills. In fact, it is our intention to publish during this Session a record number of draft Bills--we will move on this as quickly as possible--on a range of subjects: a food standards agency, freedom of information and tobacco advertising. Although there might be disagreement about how we should tackle the problems of smoking, especially among young people, there is cross-party agreement that something should be done. Other subjects include financial services, limited liability partnerships and the control of communicable diseases. There are areas where we could, to good effect, publish draft Bills and then consider the role of Parliament in ensuring proper scrutiny.

Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in addition to draft Bills, which can perform a useful function, the fact that the Government are looking at other consensus-building mechanisms on the big political issues of the day should be welcomed? I add my welcome--I hope that she will, too--to the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary just a couple of days ago that he wishes to make early progress on the establishment of a commission to examine the methods that are used to elect Members to this place. That is a consensus-building mechanism that can work and needs to be welcomed.

Mr. Skinner: Steady with that one.

Mrs. Taylor: I always take advice from my hon. Friend, and if he says steady, I shall be very careful about what I say.

We have all experienced problems--some of which my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) raised in an Adjournment debate yesterday morning--in elections. There are problems that we should look at on an all-party basis, and if we can arrive at solutions, so much the better.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay): Does the right hon. Lady agree that there is much truth in the aphorism that he who governs least governs best, and that one problem that we in this place have is that we all rush to the judgment that we know what is better for other people and then end up making very bad legislation and very complicated lives for the people whom we seek to govern? Will she bear that in mind in her haste to introduce all these new Bills?

Mrs. Taylor: I shall certainly bear in mind what the hon. Lady said. She spoke about the complexities of Bills. Let me add a personal note. Legislation should be as understandable as possible. Anyone who can find a way to present our legislation in plain English will certainly get a great deal of credit from me.

On the amount of legislation that is necessary, I am afraid that, on a partisan note, much needs to be done to redress some of the balance of the past few years.

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I was asked about the proper programming of legislation. I hope that the new Committee will examine that. We need to consider what alternatives there might be to the guillotine imposed by the Government with a majority and the voluntary understandings that have been tried in the past. Sometimes they have worked, sometimes not, but there is scope to see what other mechanisms could be available to achieve better planning of legislation.

Another area that the Committee should consider is the balance of work on the Floor of the House and upstairs in Committee. That was touched on by Jopling, but only at the margins. I feel strongly that the work of Standing Committees never gets the attention or credit that it deserves. Select Committees get some recognition, but it is rare for Standing Committees or some of the Scrutiny Committees to get any attention whatever. Perhaps if the media feel that they have extra slots available because of the changes to Prime Minister's Questions they will turn their attention to Committee work, because those of us who have been here for any time know that much valuable work goes on in Committees. Many hon. Members work in Committees, but that work goes without recognition.

I also hope that the Committee will look at the other main role of Parliament--holding Ministers to account. The changes to Prime Minister's Questions will be beneficial, but I do not want to go into them this evening, not least because there is an Adjournment debate on that subject next week. However, yesterday, more questions were asked. There were more opportunities to follow up. There were more serious questions, from both sides of the House, and, indeed, more serious answers.

There is still scope for discussion on further changes: for example, considering the role of open or closed questions, or the period of notice for the tabling of questions. The Committee may wish to look at that. On departmental questions, there are other areas that could be considered: for example, whether there should be a facility to request the Speaker to allow a longer period for supplementaries on a question on a particularly important or topical issue.

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