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Points of Order

3.30 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On 7 February, the Procedure Committee heard evidence from the Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office in relation to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill. During that evidence, the Minister said that he would publish a response to the report by the Regulatory Reform Committee before the Standing Committee met to consider the Bill. The Committee is due to start consideration of the Bill tomorrow at 10.30 am, but the Minister has not yet responded to the recommendations of the Select Committee. I have spoken to the Clerk of the Regulatory Reform Committee, who tells me that far from receiving a detailed response from the Government, he has received only a letter, as yet unpublished, which will be put before members of the Standing Committee when it meets tomorrow.

I hope you share my view that that is intolerable. The Government said that they would publish their response before the Standing Committee met. They have not done so and the members of the Committee have not therefore had the chance to table amendments in response to the Government's comments. At a time when the Government talk about bringing Parliament closer to the people, this is evidence that they are doing the opposite by denying the people's representatives the chance to challenge the Government.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As one of those who will serve on Standing Committee A tomorrow and who has already tabled amendments, I think it is wrong that a Minister should give the impression—as the Under-Secretary did—that we would be able to table amendments knowing the Government's response to the views of a senior Committee. In fact, we have had to table amendments without the benefit of that advice. Should not the Minister come before the House and explain himself, so that we may prepare properly for tomorrow morning?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I say to the hon. Gentlemen that it is unsatisfactory if the work of the Committee will be impeded by lack of information. I am sure that the airing of that complaint now means that it will have been heard, and that there will be other ways to pursue the Minister in question, so that matters may proceed satisfactorily tomorrow.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it still the convention that
27 Feb 2006 : Column 20
Members of Parliament write to other hon. Members in advance if they visit their constituencies? [Hon. Members: "Yes."] Last Tuesday, three members of the parliamentary Liberal party, which is 5 per cent. of the total, came to Leicester, East, where they dined with the former Member for Leicester, South at a public meeting, where they consumed chicken tikka massala and Cobra beer. Their satellite navigation system might not have been working or they may have misunderstood the term "constituency week". I take it to mean spending more time in one's own constituency: they obviously feel that it means spending more time in other people's constituencies. I do not mind them coming to Leicester, which is a fabulous city, and I would have been happy to meet them there, but I wondered if that convention was still in existence.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Well, the hon. Gentleman might have spared us some of the detail. However, it is customary that when hon. Members visit another's constituency for political reasons, they notify that Member in advance. The whole House would work on a better basis if that practice were observed. However, if they visit just to eat chicken tikka massala, notification is not necessary.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the circumstances, I feel that I need to make a confession. I regularly visit the constituency of the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) and I have to tell him that I neglected to write to him on almost all those occasions, but he will of course be reassured because my mother, who is one of his constituents, happens to live in Leicester, East. I can give him my absolute assurance that I have never schemed his downfall in my mother's house.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Before you sum up, I would like you to bear in mind the fact that if the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) is correct and has been visiting some constituency, speaking on behalf of some Liberal Democrat candidate, the chances are, based on his record of the past few months, that the candidate will not do very well.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I am sure that the House will have benefited from that timely warning. Perhaps I could say to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) that everyone will get an invitation from his mother in due course, so we shall all be on an equal footing in future.
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Government of Wales Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

3.36 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): I beg to move,

First Day

Proceedings            Time for conclusion of proceedings
Amendments relating to Clauses 1 and 2, Schedule 1 and Clauses 3 to 22.Two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this Order.
Amendments relating to Clauses 23 to 27, Schedule 2 and Clauses 28 to 44.The moment of interruption.
Second Day
Proceedings            Time for conclusion of proceedings
Amendments relating to Clauses 45 to 58, Schedule 3, Clauses 59 to 87, Schedule 4, Clauses 88 to 93, Schedule 5, Clauses 94 to 102, Schedule 6, Clauses 103 to 107, Schedule 7, Clauses 108 to 144, Schedule 8, Clauses 145 to 148, Schedule 9, Clauses 149 to 159, Schedule 10, Clauses 160 and 161, Schedule 11, Clause 162, Schedule 12 and Clauses 163 to 165; new Clauses and new Schedules; any other proceedings on the Bill.One and a half hours before the moment of interruption.

The programme motion seeks to ensure adequate debate on parts of the Bill that have attracted amendments to be considered on Report. It follows three days in Committee on the Floor of the House, during which the Bill received thorough and detailed scrutiny, particularly of the parts that are genuinely new enhanced primary powers and of proposals for reforming the electoral system.

The House will be aware that 93 of the 165 clauses are based closely on sections of the Government of Wales Act 1998. A further 48 clauses relate to the separation of the legislature from the Executive, a policy that has all-party support. Only 24 clauses are concerned with the new provisions relating to the Assembly's enhanced—and, subject to a referendum, primary—legislative powers. It was thus right and proper for the House to focus on scrutinising parts of the Bill that are novel and which it has not previously considered, while devoting less time to aspects that have cross-party support, such as the separation of the Executive and the legislature.
27 Feb 2006 : Column 22

Despite the points that I have just made, the House will recall that at the end of the Committee, the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) objected on a point of order that the House had been unable to scrutinise 133 clauses. Consequently, she asked for more time for consideration in Committee. The House will want to note that at no time was such a request made through the usual channels. Indeed, an intervention from the shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), on 26 January was the only suggestion of any kind from the official Opposition that more time might be needed. That point was raised through the usual channels immediately afterwards, yet even then the Opposition did not press a request for more time.

The programme motion for the Committee was agreed with cross-party support. Furthermore, consideration of the Bill was organised to ensure that the House concentrated its scrutiny on provisions that were genuinely new, or controversial. The House will recall that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham expressed particular concern that there was no opportunity for the House to scrutinise the "extremely complex financial provisions" of the Bill, so I was extremely surprised to see that not a single Conservative amendment has been tabled on those provisions on Report. I should be interested to hear the hon. Lady's explanation of that apparent oversight.

The programme motion seeks to guarantee that the amendments on outstanding issues of contention receive appropriate scrutiny. If accepted, the programme motion will ensure that amendments relating to parts 1 and 2, which deal with the legal separation between the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government, will be considered on the first day of consideration on Report. Although some of the provisions that relate to the Assembly's electoral arrangements have been debated in Committee, some of the remaining provisions in parts 1 and 2 have not yet been scrutinised by the House and have attracted amendments. We have therefore sought to ensure that those amendments that have been selected receive adequate time.

Day 2 will allow the consideration of the provisions in parts 3 to 6. The provisions in parts 3 and 4 that relate to Assembly measures and Acts of the Assembly received detailed consideration in Committee. The programme motion will ensure that amendments relating to those parts that have been selected for consideration and those relating to the remaining parts of the Bill will receive an appropriate amount of time for debate.

In conclusion, the programme motion will ensure that the debates on Report and Third Reading will address all parts of the Bill where amendments have been tabled and selected. I commend the programme motion to the House.

3.40 pm

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