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Pre-legislative Scrutiny

35. Mr. David Stewart (Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber) (Lab): To ask the Leader of the House how many draft Bills have been subject to online consultation. [147109]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Phil Woolas): Only one draft Bill, the draft Communications Bill in 2002, has so far been the subject of an online forum. However, all draft Bills are subject to online scrutiny to the extent that they are published on the Parliament website, and all Select Committees have published e-mail addresses to which the public may send comments.

Mr. Stewart : Does my hon. Friend agree that online consultation does not mean a choice between Pentiums and Parliament, but is a way of involving the silent majority in the legislative process, and another step in the evolution of Parliament?

Mr. Woolas: Yes, I do agree. I think that online consultation involving online forums is the way forward. These are, of course, matters for the Committees themselves, but my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has expressed his support for that type of consultation, which benefits the reconnection of Parliament with the voting public in many ways.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that what made the online forum considering the Communications Bill so effective was the high quality, well organised moderation of the questionnaires that were sent out electronically, and of the replies that came back? What discussions has he or the Leader of the

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House had about this, and what is being done to make such facilities available to all Select or Joint Committees that want to undertake online scrutiny? Is it not true that there has been no similar forum since then because the arrangements have not been properly established, and should the hon. Gentleman not get a grip?

Mr. Woolas: My right hon. Friend and I have got a grip, and I am pleased to say that I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The House will know that my right hon. Friend has written to the Chairman of the Liaison Committee opening discussions on the draft Bills that are to be scrutinised and the methods involved. As from this month, Select Committees and Standing Committees are webcast, so that the public can follow their proceedings, and arrangements for the online forum—a more in-depth and useful form of online consultation than a simple e-mail—will follow discussions with the Chairman on scrutiny of draft Bills.

Sitting Hours (Child Care)

36. Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab): To ask the Leader of the House what plans he has to assess the need for child care facilities for hon. Members if the House were to revert to its former sitting hours. [147111]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Phil Woolas): My right hon. Friend has no such plans. He is aware, however, that many Members with young children find the new sitting hours beneficial, especially in the evenings.

Vera Baird : Is my hon. Friend aware that half of all politically active women of all parties who were interviewed by the Equal Opportunities Commission cited the late sitting hours and the lack of child care as the main deterrents to standing for Parliament? Would not any change back to late night working without the introduction of child care strike a double-blow against the greater participation of women in the House?

Mr. Woolas: Clearly there is that danger, and if press reports are to be believed, several Members, including Ministers, would, if the decision were reversed, have problems because of their own personal circumstances. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made a statement last week at business questions about the way forward on this matter. We know that strong views are held throughout the House, irrespective of party-political affiliation, and the Modernisation Committee will examine how best to move matters forward.

HOUSE OF COMMONS COMMISSION

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

Exhibitions

37. Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): What criteria are used in making decisions on allocating exhibition space in the House; and whether he will make a statement. [147112]

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Sir Archy Kirkwood (on behalf of the House of Commons Commission): Dates for exhibitions in the Upper Waiting Hall are allocated by ballot, overseen by the Serjeant. Such exhibitions sponsored by Members must be non-commercial, non-controversial and non-political. They also require the support of the appropriate Department and need to be endorsed by the Chairman of the Administration Committee.

Helen Jones : I am grateful for that reply, but would the hon. Gentleman give some consideration to giving priority for exhibitions in the House of work done by local people in Members' constituencies—particularly the work of young people? That would enable them to

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connect with the House and ensure that Members and the public saw much of the good work that young people do.

Sir Archy Kirkwood: That point is well made. I know that the hon. Lady takes an interest in these matters and that she has been unlucky in the ballot. I hope that she will persevere. The Chairman of the Administration Committee has some say over what particular exhibitions can be exempted from the ballot, and that is usually decided with reference to their specific relevance to Parliament. I invite the hon. Lady to make her views further known, and I shall certainly make sure that they are brought to the attention of the Chairman of the Administration Committee. I hope that she will keep trying.

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Points of Order

12.32 pm

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, of which I have given you notice. From the headlines in today's newspapers it seems clear that the Government are determined to press ahead with yet another outrageous stealth tax on motorists to fund compensation for victims of crime. In the Home Secretary's foreword to the consultation paper issued yesterday, he said that, when the consultation was over, the Government intended to legislate through amendments to the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill. That Bill has already received its Second Reading in the other place. Is not the last-minute announcement of major changes to a Bill that is already on its way through Parliament a serious discourtesy to the House and the other place? Is it not also an indication of the contempt that the Government show for Parliament? Will you, Mr. Speaker, investigate what has taken place on our behalf?

On a further point of order, a Home Office press release yesterday stated that there will be a 12-week period of consultation, which is the standard minimum period specified in the Government's own code of practice, but the deadline for responses is 29 March—only 11 weeks away. Will you, Mr. Speaker, inquire why the Home Office is making inaccurate statements and why it is ignoring the Government's own guidelines on written consultations?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Lady refers to a consultation document, and I can tell her that the House will have ample opportunity to debate that matter and respond to it. On the other point of order, she gave me notice and I have taken advice, but it is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: I have answered the point of order, so I do not propose to open it up again. I will take the point of order from the right hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes).

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order Mr. Speaker.

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You may have noticed that during last Thursday's business questions, I asked the Leader of the House about the fact that the subject for the Opposition day debate was not announced last Thursday. We are getting totally inadequate notice of Opposition day debates, and the public and lobby groups are unaware of what subjects are being discussed. Could you require the Opposition to make the subject for Opposition day debates known in time for the Leader of the House to make an announcement at business questions?

Mr. Speaker: In days gone by, the right hon. Gentleman and I were in opposition. We did not impose such restrictions then, and I will not impose them now.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am glad to make this point of order in the presence of the Leader of the House and the Defence Secretary, because both have been very good about coming to the House to make statements. As column 529 of the relevant Hansard shows, yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) and I discussed the principle of whether, when British troops have been in action, a statement should be made to the House of Commons. Did we interpret you wrongly, or were you rather sympathetic to that point of view? And have you received a request from the Ministry of Defence that a statement be made about the events in Amara?


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