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Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): Will my hon. Friend summarise his views before finishing? It is important to know what the Opposition Front Bench would do in office. Does he agree that the Government have a right to get their Bills through and to do so in a
Mr. Grieve: My hon. Friend makes powerful and compelling points, but I would go further, in this sense.
Many have congratulated the Leader of the House on his appearance at the Dispatch Box, and I do, too. He has an opportunity, but the question is, will it be taken? If indeed the Government wish to bring forward proposals, along the lines of those of the Norton committee, for substantial reform of how Parliament can hold the Executive to account, he will have support, and if things such as the programme motion before us were part of those proposals, it would be much easier to be reassured about the Government's intentions. But at the moment, every time that modernisation comes along, it is simply another nail in the coffin of the few remaining--doubtless sometimes abused and tawdry--powers left to Back Benchers to make a noise about something. I tell the Leader of the House that if this is the best that we are going to get, we shall be in a sad and sorry place by the end of this Parliament.
For myself, I will vote against these motions. I believe that they are wrong. The only circumstances in which I could support them would be if they were part of a total package that had been brought about by co-operation. The willingness to co-operate exists, but the will on the Government side appears wholly absent.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Stephen Twigg): I start on a positive note. I welcome at least the first part of the concluding remarks made by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and sincerely hope that, with a new Parliament, we can develop the good will that he mentioned. I would much prefer that the process of debate and consideration of the reform and modernisation of the House had full cross-party support, and that Members from the main Opposition party did not feel, as they have today, unable to support the proposals.
We have had an interesting debate, in which Members have spoken from a range of perspectives. It is the first debate in this Parliament on the modernisation of the House of Commons. Let me quote something that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said last night in his winding-up speech on the debate on the Loyal Address, because I believe that it responds to some of the points that have been made tonight by Members on both sides of the House. He said that two important purposes of modernisation were, first,
The hon. Member for Beaconsfield mentioned the Norton commission and the Hansard Society, both of which have made positive contributions to this debate and both of which, in their different ways, seek to meet both criteria set out by my right hon. Friend last night.
I thank all Members who participated in the debate. I apologise if I cannot respond to all the points made, but I undertake to write to any hon. Member whose points I do not address. I associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield about the three excellent maiden speeches that we have heard.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Ann McKechin) made a powerful and confident speech. I pay tribute to the work that she did before entering the House on issues of international development and fighting world poverty. I was interested to hear that Glasgow, Maryhill is a farming constituency and to hear of her ardent support--new-found ardent support--for Partick Thistle.
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Luke) because I missed the opening of his speech, but he made a strong commitment, as did his predecessor in the House, to the modernisation of the House and its practices, and I pay tribute to that.
The hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) made a very witty, powerful contribution to the debate. I am sure that he was pleased to bring to an end the brief period in which Witney was represented by the Labour party, although when he started to talk about the Levellers I wondered whether he might be planning to follow his predecessor and cross the Floor. I suspect that that might not happen. I congratulate all three maiden speakers.
Today's debate has focused mostly on programming, but I was struck by the fact that two Conservative Members said that they had never participated in a deferred Division and intended never to sign what they termed the visitors' book. I was worried that if that became a trend throughout the Conservative party, Labour's already large majority would become larger still. In the interests of democracy, I encourage other Conservative Members to participate in deferred Divisions.
We heard some pretty synthetic anger about the use of deferred Divisions. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) seemed to be concerned that our constituents might discover the timing of a vote and lobby us about how we should vote. I do not imagine that any of us would have a problem with that. If a deferred Division is on a matter that gives rise to strength of opinion in a constituency, surely it is part of the proper democratic process that people can participate.
The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) suggested that deferring Divisions meant that Members would be less informed when participating in votes. If anything, a deferred Division enables a Member to be more informed. A Member who was not present for the debate has the time to study Hansard. It is not reasonable to suggest, therefore, that people who do not participate in debates are any less well informed than those who vote in the traditional way at the end of a debate.
The motion gives more rights to Standing Committees, as was grudgingly acknowledged by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, when he said that it could be a great improvement. That will be the test in the coming year as we experiment with the proposal. The Government will still table a programme motion on Second Reading, to set
That will enable the Standing Committee and the House to vary an out date and the time for remaining stages in the light of the Committee's sittings. It gives the initiative to the Standing Committee, as the Modernisation Committee concluded that its members are best placed to undertake programming. We have looked at the experience of the previous Session and have tried to learn from it. That is what the Modernisation Committee report seeks to do and the proposals tonight would implement that.
I shall attempt, albeit briefly, to respond to some of the other contributions. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton quoted a letter from the previous Leader of the House and was concerned that programming does not ensure that all parts of the Bill are scrutinised. Clearly, one of the major purposes of programming is to ensure that that scrutiny happens through all the stages of the Bill. The letter received from my right hon. Friend is evidence of her good faith. She stressed the powers that Opposition parties should have through the process and she tried to review how it was working in practice.
If the Opposition do not engage with the process, there is little that can be done. That is why the Modernisation Committee has reviewed the proposals to create greater flexibility. If there is good will and hon. Members on both sides of the House participate, we may be able to have more effective scrutiny as a result of the changes.
Mrs. Browning: Notwithstanding our principled objection to the proposals, once they were agreed there was no question of our not participating in the Programming Sub-Committees; we did participate. The right hon. Lady wrote the letter because Ministers were not complying as she had expected them to.
Mr. Twigg: It is clearly incumbent on all hon. Members, including Ministers, to comply with the letter and the spirit of the changes. That is important because they are as much about the culture as about the rules of the House and any Sessional Order with which we deal.
I shall move on to try to address some of the other points made by right hon. and hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) said that, although programming was acceptable, compensating changes should be made. As I have said, the aim of programming is not to reduce scrutiny. My hon. Friend made some important points about pre-legislative scrutiny, but the changes should not be seen in isolation. Pre-legislative scrutiny has already taken place, and we have the opportunity to extend it with the legislation that will be introduced in this Parliament. Hon. Members should view the changes as a package, rather than simply considering each of them in isolation. I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to consider far more pre-legislative scrutiny.
The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who served as a member of the Modernisation Committee throughout the previous Parliament, made a point, as he did in a previous debate, about the number of guillotine motions during the previous Parliament compared to the period when Baroness Thatcher was Prime Minister. I understand that he arrived at his figure for the number of Bills guillotined by adding guillotine motions to programme motions. I entirely respect the fact that he does not agree with programming; that is the point of this debate, but programming has wide support in the House. If guillotines are considered separately from programme motions, the hon. Gentleman will find that his point does not arise.
The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) made a point about the Programming Sub-Committees not meeting in public and the lack of available transcripts. I understand that all the formal proceedings of the Committees are minuted, but that it is not the practice to publish the minutes. That is the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but it is not a decision for the Government. The Sub-Committees are constituted as Select Committees. They are deliberative Committees, and Mr. Speaker has ruled that they sit in private. That has advantages, because a more consensual approach can be established to ensure that the concerns of Opposition and Government Members, as well as those of Front Benchers, are included, but such issues can be reviewed and are open for debate as the process of modernisation and reform of the House continues.
The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), to whom I apologise because I was not in the Chamber to hear all his speech, made an important contribution. He made the suggestion, among others, that the Modernisation Committee could be reconstituted as an "Improvement of Scrutiny Committee". Clearly, that is one of the many suggestions that can be considered as matters progress. Of course, the Procedure Committee and the Liaison Committee, both of which are chaired by Back Benchers, serve as powerful advocates for change and improvement in the practices of the House. The most positive way forward is to achieve the best possible co-operation between those Committees and the Modernisation Committee during this Parliament.
If hon. Members will excuse me, I shall draw my speech to a close by referring more generally to the background to the debate. Several Members have referred to the role of Members of Parliament. Sometimes the impression given is that Labour Members are super social workers and that Opposition Members simply want to scrutinise legislation. That suggestion is deeply unfair; all hon. Members seek to do our best not only in representing our constituents but in scrutinising legislation and the Government.
The proposals are experimental and are based on a review of how the previous proposals worked in the previous Session. If they do not work, we can review and reconsider them in a year's time. As has been said, there was support from all parties in the Modernisation Committee. The former Member for East Devon, Sir Peter Emery, supported the proposals, as did Labour and Liberal Democrat Members who served on that Committee.
Many hon. Members have talked about the low turnout at the recent election and the disconnection between people and politics. The yah-boo politics, the time-wasting and the unnecessarily adversarial style in the House contribute more than anything to the alienation that is felt out there about politics and its relevance to peoples' lives. Being kept up all night to take part in debates makes no sense, does not mean that we make good law and is not a positive advertisement--
It being half-past Six o'clock, Madam Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Order [this day].
The House divided: Ayes 265, Noes 125.