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So far we have talked about the issue of the timetable for Second Readings. However, I want to make sure that the House takes on board the fact that, just as the overall timetable for a Bill will be debatable on Second Reading, it is proposed that when detailed provisions to timetable discussion in Standing Committee are suggested, the House--if the Bill is taken on the Floor of the House--
These mechanisms give the House the capacity to be flexible, or as prescriptive and detailed, as necessary. For example, we may find in practice that we need only end dates, especially for discussion of more minor Bills. It may be thought that more structure is needed to ensure that all issues are covered in debates on Bills of more substance.
I shall touch on the point made by the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir P. Tapsell) a moment ago. I wish to say clearly to the House what I have already said to the Select Committee and my colleagues in Government: our proposals bring greater rigour and predictability into our management of our business, as well as far greater transparency. I have no doubt whatsoever--indeed, I have warned the Select Committee and my colleagues about this--that if brought into effect, the proposals will place substantial pressure on Government--any Government--to ensure that there is adequate scrutiny, better preparation of Bills, and, almost certainly, less legislation. That will produce benefits as well as problems.
Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): On that particular point, several Members have always advanced the major argument that programming should ensure that all parts of a Bill, and all major matters in it, can be debated in Committee. That greatly benefits legislation, but I can find nothing in the order that sets out that principle. I believe that principle should be set out. Indeed, one could easily have put it in paragraph (5)(a) of order C, which deals with the programming of sub-Committees, to ensure that all parts of a Bill and major matters in it are considered. I am disturbed that the Government did not include that in the order, as I had believed that that was their intention.
Mrs. Beckett: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising that matter, and hope that to some extent I can reassure him. As always, it is a matter of balance, and of what it is right to include in Sessional Orders, as opposed to motions and what can be covered in other ways. Obviously, the matter depends to some extent on whether one wishes to have a detailed programme motion to cover all aspects of discussion of a Bill, or simply all aspects of it until it reaches Committee. Certainly, as the right hon. Gentleman will know, it was very much the Modernisation Committee's intention, and is the thrust of our report, that the proposed procedure has the advantage that all parts of legislation could, and would, be properly considered and given their weight and due.
The question is simply whether one puts that in the Sessional Orders. It may well be that it can be put in a programme motion, especially if at first the House wishes to have detailed programme motions for all the legislation that comes before it. That matter can be aired.
The right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) will know that the report includes a proposal for informal discussion after the Queen's Speech across the House, with representatives of all parties present, to inform the decisions that the Government need to take. Obviously the Government will have a view, as every Government have always done, on the major pieces of legislation in a programme, and on which Bills are expected to be the most controversial or need the most time. That discussion is always held in government under any Government. The informal proposals in the Select Committee report suggest that that discussion can be informed by views across the House, and that other Members of Parliament can contribute and say which matters they think are the most controversial, most weighty or time-consuming. Again, that could be reflected in programme motions.
I should also like to stress that we considered the question whether that should be a more formal structured process. The recommendation to the Committee was that it should not deliberately tie people's hands, as sometimes in the early stages of legislation, a matter is taken to be not particularly weighty or controversial, but events may change things, or when the Bill is published, people's views may change. Therefore, it was felt that there should be room for manoeuvre for those who suggested that a certain Bill was a more minor one, so that they could come back, change their minds and inform discussion about the drafting of the programme motion.
How can we take the proposal seriously, when in this Session, the Government were prepared to impose a guillotine on the undoubtedly contentious Police (Northern Ireland) Bill after only 12 hours' discussion because they wanted to ensure that the tight time frame for the Bill was adhered to? Effectively, they gave us only three weeks to discuss that Bill. There is nothing in the proposals to prevent a repetition of such a performance, as I am sure the right hon. Lady will be able to confirm.
Mrs. Beckett: I readily confirm it and, indeed, do not seek to conceal that from the House. However, the hon. Gentleman has not chosen a good or typical example. After all, we are talking about a Bill the timing of which was driven by the peace process in Northern Ireland as much as by anything else. The Police (Northern Ireland) Bill is a piece of legislation that, under any Government, would come into the category of proposals likely to be introduced as something of an emergency, and likely to be dealt with in that way--[Interruption.]
I simply highlight the fact that the process that is described in the Committee's report, and specifying the framework for decisions in the Sessional Orders, will allow the House more structured debates. It will also allow--indeed, facilitate--examination of all parts of legislation. Everything that I have heard and read of the contributions of most of my predecessors in the past 15 or 20 years, and of many other long-serving and distinguished hon. Members, leads me to believe passionately that the orders will substantially improve our processes of debate.
I also fear that the orders will have a strongly inhibiting effect on the ability of any Government to implement their legislative programme. I say this with deep respect to those who are engaged in these processes, but what is now hidden, discussed through the usual channels or--as the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) would undoubtedly assert--imposed on Back Benchers by agreement among Front Benchers, will now all be open. It will all be before the House. People will have the opportunity to contribute and to make known their own points of view when the programme motion is discussed. The report also contains recommendations that on Report and in Committee, proceedings should not continue past 10 pm.
All of that will have an impact on how long it takes any Government to pass their legislation. Labour Members are prepared to accept that consequence, because we believe that it will substantially improve the way in which the House works.
Mr. Tyrie: I wonder if the right hon. Lady could help to clarify one point. The intention is to have programming of the Standing Committees' consideration of all Bills, except for those few Bills on which there is sufficient agreement to make programming unnecessary. We know from experience, however, that Bills are very often altered beyond recognition by amendments tabled in Committee by the Executive. What provision will there be to enable the programming to be revisited, and what guarantees can the Opposition have that that provision will be satisfactory?