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26 Nov 2002 : Column 160—continued

Statutory Instruments

47. Norman Baker (Lewes): If he will ask the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons to consider whether it would be appropriate to allow statutory instruments to be amendable. [81511]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): The Procedure Committee has already considered the amendability of statutory instruments and recommended against it. It is therefore unlikely that this matter would be re-examined by the Modernisation Committee, which co-ordinates its work programme closely with the Procedure Committee.

Norman Baker : That is a disappointing reply, although I understand why the Parliamentary Secretary made it. The following position can often arise: a member of a statutory instrument Committee tables an amendment that garners all-party support in Committee; the Minister has to choose between passing the SI unamended, against the Committee's wishes, or asking the hon. Member to withdraw it. The hon. Member refuses to do that. Is not that simply bad government?

Mr. Bradshaw: I do not agree. Accepting amendability would negate the point of SIs. I shall quote briefly from the Procedure Committee's report, which states:

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): If we are not to have amendable secondary legislation, could many more statutory instruments be debated in draft?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am told by my right hon. Friend that that would be very difficult, but, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me, I will write to him with a more expansive reply.

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49. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): If he will recommend to the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons that it review the way hon. Members use laptop computers to assist them in carrying out their role of legislative scrutiny. [81513]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): My right hon. Friend will bring the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion to the attention of the Modernisation Committee. He accepts that information and communications technology has great potential for assisting the House in its work, and he is examining ways in which new technologies can be used to maximise Members' effectiveness.

Mr. Jack : I thank the Minister most sincerely for his positive response to my question, particularly at a time when the Liaison Committee has granted an experiment in the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee for the use of laptop equipment. I would be most grateful if he could keep the House informed as to the timetable of the recommendation that he has made.

Mr. Bradshaw: I would be very happy to do that, and I note the right hon. Gentleman's welcome for the advance made by the Liaison Committee in relation to the Select Committee to which he referred. I agree with him, to a certain extent; at a time when many Members have done away with paper altogether and use palm-tops, for example, for note taking, the compiling of contact addresses and so forth, the whole House will want to move in the same direction as he does, in the end.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): Is not the continuing insistence on our not using laptop computers in Committee as ludicrous as it would be if we were still required to use quill pens? The rule is often breached by Members sending text messages and using palm-top computers surreptitiously. Does it not make a mockery of the system to allow that to continue? Will the Minister move quickly on this issue?

Mr. Bradshaw: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is perfectly possible physically to remove oneself from a Committee to make a telephone call or to pass notes to and fro. It is important, however, that we take the Chairmen's Panel with us on this matter.

Draft Legislation

50. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): What steps he is taking to develop improved scrutiny of draft legislation. [81514]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robin Cook): The Queen's Speech for the first time highlighted the importance that the Government place on the pre-legislative scrutiny of Bills by Parliament. In due course, I would hope that most bills would be published in draft.

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For pre-legislative scrutiny to be a success, it will be necessary for departmental Select Committees to recognise it as part of their core tasks.

Helen Jackson : Is it not the case that, this week, we shall give a Second Reading to three Bills that have not, to my knowledge, been considered in draft? In particular, is not the Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc.) Bill causing considerable difficulties for local authorities around the country that feel that there has not been enough consultation on aspects of the legislation? Is not this an example of how draft legislation might have been extremely beneficial both to local authorities and to the Government in pursuing that programme?

Mr. Cook: In fairness to the Government, I should say that the matters that we are discussing this week have been around for some time. For instance, the Bill that we shall discuss today on the regional assemblies flows from a White Paper that has been extensively discussed. I do not disagree with my hon. Friend; of course it helps with the final text of a Bill if it has been through pre-legislative scrutiny. That is why we want to see more Bills published in draft. In practice, though, that means that these Bills would have needed to be published in draft in the last Session. What we must now focus on is how many Bills we can publish in draft in anticipation of the next Session.


The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Commons Chamber (Tourists)

51. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): What assessment the Commission has made of the costs of making the Commons Chamber accessible to tour groups when the House is sitting. [81516]

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (on behalf of the House of Commons Commission): The trial period will begin when the House returns in January and will end at the Easter recess. Tour groups will be able to view the Chamber from the area at the back of the Strangers Gallery. Glazing will be installed in the apertures behind the seats in the Gallery to provide soundproofing, and additional audio speakers will be installed in the viewing area. Full details of the cost of this work are not yet available, but it is not expected to be large and will be found from existing budgets.

Mr. Kidney : I thank the hon. Gentleman for his answer, which has obviously caused some interest around the Chamber. Will he accept that when we move to the new sitting hours in January, there will be reduced opportunities for visitors to visit the Chamber when it is empty? Does he share my sense of urgency that we should have a permanent arrangement as soon as possible for visits to take place while we are sitting, as he has just described?

Mr. Kirkwood: The hon. Gentleman's interest in that subject as a member of the Modernisation Committee is

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well known and noted. This is an experiment, and I hope that Members feed back their experience of that temporary arrangement between January and Easter. Once we have the benefit of that behind us, we shall look forward—in the not too distant future, I hope—to permanent arrangements being made.


The President of the Council was asked—

Pre-legislative Scrutiny

53. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): To ask the President of the Council if he will bring forward a schedule for pre-legislative scrutiny online for all Bills before the next Queen's Speech. [81518]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): Whether to conduct pre-legislative

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scrutiny online is a matter for decision by the Committee concerned, although we hope that it might become the usual practice, as circumstances allow.

Mr. Allen : Obviously, there are difficulties with giving all Bills pre-legislative scrutiny as the programme has been agreed, but there should be no such excuse for next year. Departments are considering Bills now for next year's programme. Will my hon. Friend ensure that the wage bill for Members of Parliament does not go up more than 4 per cent. before that essential modernisation takes place?

Mr. Bradshaw: As my hon. Friend is aware, the wages of Members of Parliament are subject to independent review by the Senior Salaries Review Body, but we certainly take on board his point about pre-legislative scrutiny online. I have had meetings with him and our correspondence is continuing. We are trying to do what we can to expedite the process.

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