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Mr. Speaker: If the Government table a motion to allow the right hon. Gentleman to table amendments, and the House agrees to it, he and other hon. Members will be able to do so.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm that in every election that you and I have fought since 1979, statements have been made to the press before announcements have been made to the House of Commons?

Mr. Speaker: I think that the hon. Gentleman is trying to draw the Chair into the argument.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I gave your office notice of my point of order this morning. You have tried to be very helpful to those of us whose constituencies are suffering from the dreadful disease of foot and mouth, and you will know that during the debate on foot and mouth a fortnight ago, the Minister of Agriculture agreed that he would arrange for a presentation on the subject to be given to Members of Parliament. He said that he would do that last week: last week, during his statement, I raised the matter again; he reiterated his commitment and said that he would arrange for the presentation to be made either at the end of last week or this week. I tried to get a date from his office this morning, but was told that no date had yet been fixed. Could you, on behalf of Back Benchers, whose champion you are, find out when the Minister will honour the commitment that he gave the House in your presence?

Mr. Speaker: I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman's concerns to the Minister.

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Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the past, when I have raised the matter of statements being leaked to the media before being made in the House, you have unequivocally condemned that. Accepting the point made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) about general elections, would you give us your guidance on the matter of a statement being made about the postponement of the county council elections, and whether it would have been the correct procedure for the Ministers responsible for that to have made the statement to the House, and not to have leaked it to The Sun?

Mr. Speaker: I have already dealt with that matter.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On Friday, I discovered that a landfill site was to be opened in Fosterville in my constituency, which is an uninfected area, and that it was to receive carcases from an infected area. I discovered all that not from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but from media contacts. I asked the Minister of Agriculture at once to give an explanation of what was going on; I have heard nothing. Over the weekend, I have been contacted by terrified farmers who have land adjacent to the site and who are wondering what is happening. They have no information and are extremely worried that animals from an infected area are to be brought to farms adjacent to theirs. My point of order is this: have you received any request from the Minister of Agriculture to explain his policy to the House? Were you to receive such a request, would you give it favourable consideration?

Mr. Speaker: I have received no such request.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance, not for the first time and not for the last. Further to your earlier reply to my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), and in the light of the fact that no fewer than 12 constituents raised the subject with me in the course of two hours over the weekend, can you confirm so that it is clear beyond doubt that there is apparently a distinction between the announcement of a policy, which should properly be made by Ministers in the House before it is communicated to the wider world, and the deferment of an election, which apparently entails no such requirement? What is the basis in "Erskine May" for that apparent distinction?

Mr. Speaker: That is a matter for debate, not for the Chair.

Mr. Wilshire: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Home Secretary made a statement to the House this afternoon, which the House no doubt found helpful. I subsequently discovered, to my amazement, that earlier today the Home Office had issued to local authorities affected by the elections all the information in the statement made to the House. In one way, that is sensible. However, it means that people outside the House were given information that was not given to the House until 3.30 this afternoon. Should not the guidance given to local authorities be made available to hon. Members at the same time, rather than later?

Mr. Speaker: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's concern has been noted and that Ministers will give due regard to his comments.

2 Apr 2001 : Column 49


Wheel Clamping (Restrictions)

Ms Oona King, supported by Mr. Tom Cox, Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick, Mr. Geraint Davies, Mr. Keith Darvill, Joan Ruddock, Mr. Neil Gerrard, Ms Karen Buck, Ms Linda Perham, Ms Ruth Kelly and Ms Sally Keeble, presented a Bill to provide for the maximum fee payable for the release of a wheel clamp and for the minimum time which must elapse before a vehicle may be clamped: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on 27 April, and to be printed [Bill 79].

2 Apr 2001 : Column 50

Orders of the Day

Criminal Defence Service (Advice and Assistance) Bill [Lords]

Not amended in the Committee, considered.

Clause 1

Extent of duty to fund advice and assistance

5.8 pm

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 15, at end insert--

'(3) No regulations under subsection (1) of section 13 shall be made unless a draft of them has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.'.

Although the Bill is relatively limited in scope, the House would do well to consider its implications in detail. There is an increasing tendency for Bills to include provision for regulations or statutory instruments, and to allow almost complete discretion to the Secretary of State of the day as to how those will be carried forward.

The Bill touches on several important topics. It refers to the

which potentially interests a large number of people. I am sure that many hon. Members are aware of the extent to which the role of the Legal Services Commission regarding funding, advice and assistance can have a distressing impact on people's lives. I am sure that we have all heard about our constituents' experiences and are in no doubt that the Bill is of considerable importance in that respect.

However, that importance is increased by phrases such as

Regrettably, more and more of the Bills that are considered by Parliament are inadequately drafted, although bad provisions are more likely to be introduced because the Government have made amendments on the hoof. Furthermore, we are not given sufficient opportunity to give such measures proper scrutiny and consideration in Committee or on Report. We increasingly have to correct legislation long after it has received Royal Assent. Indeed, another such Bill will be considered later this evening.

The Bill is a graphic illustration of the fact that legislation introduced in the current Parliament has become increasingly fragile, as the Government are either incapable of allowing proper parliamentary scrutiny or are unwilling to do so.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are considering a corrective Bill that seeks to rectify errors that were made in the drafting of the Access to Justice Act 1999?

Mr. Forth: The phrase "correcting errors" is of key importance, as we find ourselves constantly having to return to legislation. I could name any number of measures to which I should like to return, not least among which are the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989, the Child

2 Apr 2001 : Column 51

Support Act 1995 and many others for which the Conservative Government were responsible. I do not make any particular distinction in that regard, but whether such Bills originated under the previous or under the current Government, I suspect that the common strand is either that they were the worst type of provision--that which was achieved on an all-party or consensual basis, which inevitably ensures poor legislation--or, even worse, that they were rushed through without proper provision for parliamentary scrutiny.

I would be the first to accept that the Government of whom I had the honour of being a modest and minor member for some years resorted to guillotines, but it was unusual rather than routine for them to do so. Of course, that might be what the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) had in mind, but I point out that the previous Government almost always introduced such limitations after Bills had received fairly lengthy consideration in Committee. The difference is that the current Government resort to automatic guillotining before they are aware of the full extent of a Bill or its scope.

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