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Regulation of Debt Management and Credit Repair Services

Mr. David Amess accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Consumer Credit Act 1974 to give the Director General of Fair Trading a duty to establish a Code of Practice for traders who offer consumers the services of debt management and credit repair; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 27 April, and to be printed [Bill 85].

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Points of Order

12.44 pm

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House goes into recess this afternoon, and during the next 12 days it is certain that many hon. Members on both sides of the House will be questioned about the foot and mouth disease crisis. To measure the progress that has been made in overcoming the crisis, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was--until last Thursday--publishing daily figures for the number of animals authorised for slaughter, the number being slaughtered and the number of carcases disposed of. However, when I asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food yesterday whether that daily publication would continue during the recess, he was unable to give an answer during the hour and a half that he spent in the House.

Do you, Mr. Speaker, have further reassurance from MAFF that the information will be made available to hon. Members? That is essential if they are to answer the proper concerns of their constituents during the recess. If the information is not available, we shall not be able to judge whether the crisis is getting worse or better. I hope that the Minister will give you an assurance before the House rises that the information will be available.

Mr. Speaker: That is not a matter for the Chair. The hon. Gentleman will know that yesterday I allowed the statement made by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to run for an hour and a half, so that everyone concerned could closely examine the case that the right hon. Gentleman put. I can tell the hon. Gentleman only that the Minister will have heard his comments and will--I have no doubt--take serious note of what he said.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have indeed been extremely helpful to the House over the foot and mouth crisis. Many times in the past, the suggestion has been made that Members should be able to table written questions during the recess for written answer. I do not know whether it is within your discretion to allow that during the forthcoming recess; I accept that it may not be. However, if it is, will you allow it? If it is not, will you be kind enough to refer the matter to the appropriate Committees so that perhaps, in future, we may have the chance to put such questions?

Mr. Speaker: Questions can be tabled, but they are not answered. The matter has been looked at by the appropriate Committee; I understand that it is still being examined. Until the Committee comes up with an answer, I can have no discretion in the matter.

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Orders of the Day

International Development Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

12.47 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Chris Mullin): I beg to move,

4. Proceedings on consideration and Third Reading shall be completed at today's sitting.
5. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at Three o'clock.
5A. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at Four o'clock.

The motion proposes that the remaining stages of the International Development Bill be completed in the House today. It is supplementary to the programme motion approved for the Committee stage, which finished on 15 March.

The Bill is important, but it is also short, simple and uncontroversial. We have already spent about 16 hours debating it--seven on Second Reading and nine in Committee--and have covered a great deal of the ground. I hope that our debate today will be similarly constructive and that, to that end, we shall not spend too much time debating the programme motion. I commend the motion to the House and will set an example by sitting down.

12.48 pm

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): I certainly do not want to detain the House for too long on the programme motion--frankly, there is precious little time this afternoon to discuss some important amendments to an important Bill. However, the Minister would not expect me to let him off the hook quite that lightly. It is important to record--yet again--some important points of principle about the way that the Government whistle legislation through the House without proper scrutiny or consideration.

The Bill was printed on 15 February this year. Second Reading took place on 6 March. The Bill went into Committee on 12 March and was out again on 15 March. When it came out of Committee, several important new clauses--some of them drafted by me--had not been considered. In one sense, the Minister is right to say that the Bill is relatively uncontroversial. However, because it sets out the framework for international development--probably for many years to come; the previous Act of this type was in force for 21 years--it is essential that we get it right. The Conservatives and other hon. Members have raised important points that we want the Government to consider.

Today, we have two hours to consider 12 important amendments--one or two of which are fundamental to the essence of the Bill. That is not enough time. However, our main complaint about the programme motion, as you will know, Mr. Speaker--I suspect that you have heard this speech once or twice since Christmas--is one of principle. These newfangled programme motions are being imposed on the House of Commons by a heavy-handed Government using their massive majority.

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The result is that debate is stifled and insufficient scrutiny given to legislation. We all know that that means that legislation will be less good than it would otherwise be.

In this case, the community of non-governmental organisations has not had time to study the Bill properly, nor had an opportunity to make its comments on the Bill known to us. There has not been enough time during the Bill's consideration to tease out important points from the Government.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Government increased the allocation of time for Report, it would be possible to incorporate in the Bill the terms of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development convention against bribery in international business dealings, thereby answering the consistent call of Her Majesty's Opposition and the recent request of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman)?

Mr. Streeter: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is one of the many failings of the Government in the last 12 months that they have failed to introduce important anti-bribery legislation, despite a commitment from a Minister in April 2000 to do so at the earliest opportunity. The earliest opportunity came in the Queen's Speech in the autumn; it came and it went. The legislation was not in the Queen's Speech and there is insufficient time to insert it into the Bill that we are considering today.

I ask the Government again to reconsider programme motions. They clearly are not a great success and there is no point in driving through legislation if it later turns out to be bad legislation because of insufficient time.

Members of Parliament are all in this place for a number of reasons. We are here to represent our constituents--that is important. We are here for some of us to become members of Governments and shadow Governments. But above all, we are here as Members of Parliament to make law. That is what our constituents think they send us here for. Perhaps we are becoming too much like glorified social workers now, but we are really here to make law.

It is important that there is consensus across the Chamber on the rules of procedure by which we seek to make and improve law. There are 659 of us in the House, all of us having the incredible privilege of being one of a small number of people in this country who can make legislation. What a great privilege and onerous responsibility that is. The onus therefore is on the Government to ensure that our rules of law making are fair, and that they give proper time for scrutiny, and proper time for Her Majesty's Opposition to consider things properly. That is not the case with this programme motion. For those reasons, I wish to register our firm opposition to it.

12.52 pm

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I shall speak briefly in opposition to the programme motion and to echo many of the points of the Conservative spokesman. The Minister is right that the Bill is simple, short and relatively uncontroversial, and it will remain uncontroversial if we do not get much opportunity to add anything to it.

As the Minister said, the Bill has had 16 hours of scrutiny, but I emphasise that Report is one of the few opportunities that ordinary Back Benchers, especially

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Back Benchers from minority parties, have to table amendments and hear them debated. I hope that we shall have the opportunity to do so this afternoon, but I believe that, in guaranteeing only an hour and a half for Report, the Government have done a disservice to their own Bill.

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