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14 Nov 2002 : Column 130—continued

Mr. Cook: I am pleased to assure my hon. Friend that I am up to speed on that.

I am always delighted when the media pass over me; it is my ambition to appear gratuitously in the media as little as possible. I am happy to say, and it may help to put the right hon. Gentleman's comments in perspective, that I am advised that that programme's ratings plummeted between the first and second episodes, which shows once again that the public outside often have greater wisdom than the official Opposition.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) referred to a sense of mañana in relation to House of Lords reform. In Cornwall we have the expression "dreckly", which is like mañana only without the sense of urgency. As it has taken 90 years to reach this point, during which for a considerable portion of time there was a Conservative Administration, the Opposition cannot be redeemed from the accusation of being slow off the mark on the issue of House of Lords reform.

The Leader of the House may recall—I hope that he does—that this was the first time that the Queen has referred in her Speech to pre-legislative scrutiny, and I pay tribute to the Leader of the House and our Committee for that. How are the candidates for pre-legislative scrutiny to be selected? For example, we already know about three draft Bills—on housing, nuclear energy and corruption, the last of which I think is intended to encompass some form of company law—but is it also intended that some issues that have been addressed in the recent past but are not in the Queen's Speech, such as mental health and company pension legislation, may also be candidates for pre-legislative scrutiny during the coming Session? In addition, is it intended that some of the most complicated Bills, such as those relating to antisocial behaviour, planning, and criminal justice, which has huge implications, may be candidates for pre-legislative scrutiny?

Will the Leader of the House address the point that consultation by Government, before we come to legislation, is no substitute for consultation by Parliament when we start to have the proposals put before us? By what mechanisms will measures be selected for pre-legislative scrutiny and agreed?

Mr. Cook: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for introducing Xdreckly" to the parliamentary lexicon. I am sure that it will come in useful on occasions when we require further time for reflection, and I shall bear it in mind.

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I welcome the hon. Gentleman's appreciation of the fact that the Queen's Speech for the first time reflects the value of pre-legislative scrutiny, and he will know the importance that I attach to that. I hope, during the next week, to have consultations with him and the shadow Leader of the House to discuss the shape of the year, and in the course of that we may discuss what may be appropriate candidates for draft Bills and publications.

The Mental Health Bill has already been published in draft, there is now quite a degree of public debate as a result of the proposals in the draft text, and the Departments are reflecting on that. We intend to bring that forward as an official Bill at some point in the course of the Session, but it is obviously important that the present stage be spent reflecting on the reaction to the draft Bill.

I would not myself have thought that it would be sensible for us to produce the two important Bills that form the core of this Session on crime and antisocial behaviour as draft Bills. Those are Bills that we shall want to make progress on so that we can ensure that we modernise the criminal justice system so that it adequately reflects the needs of the victim and meets our objective of trying to ensure that our citizens can walk the streets in safety. We cannot therefore hold out any prospect of having those Bills in draft, but I hope that by the end of the Session we will have seen a significant increase in the volume of draft legislation.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): May I ask the Leader of the House for some help in dealing with the Executive in relation to how they organise debates involving Select Committees? The Education and Skills Committee was apportioned a debate next Thursday to deal with higher education and higher education finance. We wrote a report, many months ago now, on that subject and, for understandable reasons, the Government have consistently asked us to delay the deadline and we have reasonably said that we understand the situation and will do so, so we are not being unreasonable there. But at 10 o'clock today we were told that the debate we were to lead next Thursday on higher education has been substituted not by a Select Committee debate, but by a Government debate on further education from which my Committee will be excluded in any official role. Moreover, there is no hint of any compensation of another day on a future occasion. That seems a strange way for the Executive to treat this legislature and House of Commons.

Mr. Cook: This seems to be exactly the sort of occasion on which the word Xdreckly" may come in handy. If I may say so, my hon. Friend is aware that the Government are committed to producing a higher education funding review and, as I understand it, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills has committed himself to publishing that review early in the new year. Plainly, it is sensible for everybody—the Select Committee and Members of the House included—for the debate to be held in the light of the Government's review, which will contain a number of options on which the House and my hon. Friend's Committee will wish to comment. In the meantime, I

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assure him that nobody is excluded from next Thursday's debate. Indeed, I very much hope that his Select Committee will play a vigorous part in it.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): May we have a statement from the Deputy Prime Minister on the Government's attitude to the outcome of major planning inquiries? The Dibden bay inquiry is coming to its conclusion after a full year of examining an extremely controversial proposal to build a massive container port on the edge of what is about to become a new national park, so surely it would be invidious if the planning inquiry found against building the port only for the Government to overrule that finding for political reasons. If we can have a statement, that would be most valued; otherwise, any such overruling would make nonsense of the planning inquiry process and all the money spent on such inquiries.

Mr. Cook: I am surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman suggest that the Government have overruled the outcome of the inquiry. Before he waxes too indignant in denouncing the Government for taking a course of action, he at least owes them the courtesy of waiting until they have taken it. The Government have a high respect for the planning inquiry system, but we are of course concerned that the current system involves unnecessary delay for developers and objectors, which is why we will have lots of opportunity during this Session to discuss the planning process.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): Regarding the business for Monday 25 November and the United Nations and Iraq, will any substantive motion be tabled to enable Members—every one of us—either to endorse or not to endorse military action in the middle east that could open Pandora's box?

Mr. Cook: As I announced, the debate will be on the UN Security Council resolution on Iraq. I anticipate that it will take place on a substantive motion on that theme.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): I go to Brussels almost every week, sent by the House as one of its two representatives on the convention on the future of Europe. I listen to the Government representative making some pretty remarkable policy changes, such as his recent acceptance that the charter of fundamental rights should become legally binding, which would have huge constitutional and legal implications and, indeed, implications for the power of the House.

Will the Leader of the House therefore organise a debate on the convention in the Chamber, because the Standing Committee on the Convention, welcome though it is, represents only an opportunity for me and others to exchange views with other Members? The Government are not represented in those discussions. Will he organise a debate on the convention, which reports next year, so that the Government can bring the House up to date on their new-found policy positions?

Mr. Cook: First, I understand that a working paper on the charter of rights has been brought before the convention. There are a number of options and we

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certainly accept that paper as a basis for further discussion, but no selection has yet been made among those options.

I very much welcome the right hon. Gentleman's new-found enthusiasm for regular visits to Brussels and I hope that they have a cultural impact on his approach to the rest of the continent; but on accountability, the Government have innovated in the House by setting up the Standing Committee on the Convention, which has enabled him and his colleague who represents the House on the convention to report on it. They represent the House and are present as Back-Bench Members, as it was thought appropriate on all sides that the matter was one for Back-Bench participation. Of course I understand the interest in the subject and I very much welcome the interest that the right hon. Gentleman is showing in the future of Europe. I shall certainly try to find an opportunity for it to be shared with the wider community.

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