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The President of the Council was asked--

Millennium Bug

46. Dr. David Clark (South Shields): What assessment she has made of the effect of the millennium bug internationally over the millennium date change. [104976]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): First, let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the contribution made by my right hon. Friend, when he was in government, to tackling the millennium bug. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been following closely the international year 2000 scene for the past two years. A special unit was set up over the date-change period to monitor events as they happened. There were no reports of any significant disruptions to infrastructure systems around the world. The minor problems that did crop up were dealt with quickly and posed no real threat to essential services.

Dr. Clark: Will my hon. Friend continue to reiterate the point that the millennium bug did not cause international chaos for the simple reason that careful planning, precise preparation and pre-emptive remedial action had been put in hand to make sure that that did not happen? Were not the Government in the vanguard in that respect? Will he give the House some examples of breakdowns overseas--perhaps in the United States--that were rectified in time but which otherwise would have caused considerable difficulties?

Mr. Tipping: My right hon. Friend is right. There were problems both here and overseas, and the United States had difficulties with its satellite systems. However, he makes the more important point that things do not go well without careful preparation and planning. I am delighted that the Government and the private sector in this country

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were in the vanguard in that matter, as my right hon. Friend says, and that we were able to share our knowledge and information with others.


The President of the Council was asked--


48. Mr. Phil Sawford (Kettering): What assessment she has made of the impact of her Department's proposals for changing practice and procedure in the House; and if she will make a statement. [104978]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): I believe that proposals for change in the House have been well received and are generally positive, but they are being kept under review through the Modernisation Committee.

Mr. Sawford: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I especially welcome the Modernisation Committee's decision to publish more Bills in draft form, which allows more interested parties and concerned groups to contribute to debate, both in the House and outside it. It also allows more pressure groups and constituents to put forward their views on the Government's legislative proposals. Does my right hon. Friend agree that publishing draft Bills has led to better informed debate, in Parliament and across the country?

Mrs. Beckett: I entirely agree. My hon. Friend and all hon. Members will know from their Standing Committee experience over the years that outside organisations--which often have useful information, or a different point of view or slant on legislation--frequently only realise the effect that proposals might have on them when the closing stages of legislative debate are under way. Sometimes that realisation only comes when a Bill has already passed on to the statute book. That cannot be good for good governance or for the balance of good legislation. Anything that improves the situation can only be welcome.

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Secondary Legislation

49. Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes): If she will bring forward proposals to reform the system of parliamentary scrutiny of secondary legislation. [104979]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): The Procedure Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into the scrutiny of delegated legislation, and I shall study its report with interest.

Mr. Baker: May I suggest that it would be sensible to look at the way in which statutory instruments are dealt with? At present, the Committees that scrutinise statutory instruments are required either to reject them in total, or to approve them. Sometimes that means that innocuous changes that are agreed on all sides to be important and valid cannot be made. In those instances, the requirement that the Committee either accept or reject a proposal renders it a sledgehammer used to crack a nut, and causes measures that are faulty to be passed. If the Committees were allowed to amend such instruments, would not that help the Government and the legislative process in this House?

Mr. Tipping: As I said, the Procedure Committee is considering the matter. The Wakeham report also contains some interesting proposals. Statutory instruments that go before a Committee reflect the Government's considered view. Given that, it is a question of whether the Committee supports or rejects them in total.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Does my hon. Friend agree that the method of decision making used by the Deregulation Committee, where Government proposals may be changed, should be used as the norm for allowing a debate if the Euro-Committees make a different decision from the one originally put before them?

Mr. Tipping: The Deregulation Committee has certainly been useful and I believe that in time its role will be expanded. My hon. Friend will know that the Deregulation Committee already looks at statutory instruments, and that the Government take note of its concerns.

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Points of Order

3.30 pm

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In an answer to my question earlier this afternoon, the Secretary of State for Scotland helpfully told the House that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment intended to make an important announcement this afternoon on student fees. Notwithstanding the fact that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment may, by written answer, announce to the House an intended change of policy, if the right hon. Gentleman does not come to the House, and to the Chamber, how can my hon. Friends and I, on behalf of our constituents, ask him questions about that important change of policy?

Madam Speaker: I am sure the hon. Lady is aware that, when there is a change of policy or any policy is initiated, it is for the Secretary of State concerned either to come to the House to announce it at the Dispatch Box or to do so by means of a written answer. That is entirely a matter for the Secretary of State.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. On Monday 17 January I tabled, under Standing Order No. 17, 11 named-day questions for answer by the Department of Trade and Industry. On Tuesday 18 January I tabled a further eight questions that should have been answered yesterday. Given that all 19 questions have been responded to by the Secretary of State saying that he will reply as soon as possible, and given that all the questions relate to TransTec, Hollis Industries and related matters--and this is now a matter of great public concern--could I ask your advice as to how I may extract substantive information, some of which must already be in the records of the Department of Trade and Industry, to get some answers to my questions?

Madam Speaker: That is a very difficult point of order from the hon. Lady. There are Ministers present who will no doubt have noted her point of order, and I hope that they will see that the terms of the Standing Order are fulfilled.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Bracknell): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your advice and protection concerning the Disqualifications Bill, which will be considered by the House in Committee and on Report later this afternoon. When the Bill received its Second Reading yesterday, many hon. Members on both sides of the House expressed concern and asked questions about that Bill. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) kindly agreed to consider those concerns and queries.

My point of order relates to the fact that the Disqualifications Bill is not emergency legislation; it is not urgent. Yet Second Reading took place on Monday and we are now being asked to consider the Bill, in Committee and on Report, on Tuesday. Additional amendments have appeared on the amendment paper only today, which we have therefore had very little time to consider. My hon. Friends and I believe that that is an

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abuse of the House. We seek your protection and guidance as to what we can do to have more time to deliberate on the Bill rather than rushing it from Second Reading on Monday straight to Committee and Report on Tuesday.

Madam Speaker: I do not determine the urgency of any legislation in the House, and have no responsibility for the daily agenda. I quite understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but it is for the business managers and the usual channels to deal with these matters. I would have thought that that might have been done over the preceding weeks.

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