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Small Claims

20. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): What assessment she has made of the administrative procedures for those recovering small claims following a court determination. [53924]
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): The courts offer a range of effective enforcement methods, each tailored to dealing with different financial set-ups, without which it would be far easier for recalcitrant debtors to avoid their responsibilities to judgment creditors.

Dr. Cable: Is the Minister aware that for people who achieve the feat of obtaining a small claims court ruling there is a major bureaucratic obstacle course involving four separate processes, in each of which there are up to three consecutive applications to the courts with form-filling? Can she get rid of some of that red tape?

Bridget Prentice: I understand the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises, which he has also raised with my noble Friend Baroness Ashton, in respect of one of his constituents. We made improvements in enforcement methods in April 2002. The target recovery for 2005–06 is 85p in the pound, but we are actually recovering 93.8p in the pound, so those improvements are beginning to take effect. We continue to monitor the situation and have publicised further improvement proposals in the White Paper, "Effective Enforcement". Those changes need primary legislation and we shall ensure that it is brought forward when there is parliamentary time.


The Leader of the House was asked—

Pre-legislative Scrutiny

28. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): If he will make it his policy to enable all Bills to undergo pre-legislative scrutiny. [53988]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Nigel Griffiths): We fully endorse the value of pre-legislative scrutiny. Since 1997, more than 50 Bills have been published in draft and 39 have been the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny. I am keen to ensure that as many Bills as possible benefit from that procedure where appropriate.

Mr. Allen: Does the Minister agree that we make better law when Government and Parliament work together?

Nigel Griffiths: Yes, I do.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): We were all taken aback by that brief and succinct, but positive, reply. I support the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen). If we had more pre-legislative scrutiny, the nonsense of programming nowadays, whereby much legislation goes through without important parts being adequately debated either in Standing Committee or at remaining stages, would be removed, and the House would be a better place and legislation would be better for the people of this country.
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Nigel Griffiths: Would that all right hon. and hon. Members shared the optimistic and progressive view of the hon. Gentleman, but the sad fact is that from looking at programme motions of one kind or another over a couple decades I do not consider that pre-legislative scrutiny or any other parliamentary mechanism for scrutiny would stop the inexorable trend for Oppositions to maximise the time for programme motions to complain that there is not enough time. However, I do not want to depart from the present all-party consensus; we support pre-legislative scrutiny and think it should be extended as far as is practical, but there are cases where it is not appropriate or practical.


The hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Star Chamber Court

29. Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): What the final cost was of erecting the cover over the walkway in Star Chamber Court. [53989]

Nick Harvey (North Devon) : The final cost of designing, fabricating and erecting the cover over the walkway in Star Chamber Court was £435,000.

Norman Baker: That is a grotesque sum to spend on such a feature. Is my hon. Friend aware that while almost £500,000 was being thrown away on that absurdity the energy efficiency budget of the House has been cut by 40 per cent. since 1997 and electricity consumption has gone up by 45 per cent? Is not it time that he brought some sanity, common sense and clarity to the House of Commons Commission?

Nick Harvey: The House of Commons Accommodation and Works Committee approved the construction of the canopy in March 2004, after the estates directorates of the House had identified the need to cover the walkway along the east side of Star Chamber Court following the review of access and security arrangements for visitors to the Palace, which led to the plans for the new visitor reception area. The Parliamentary Works Services Directorate developed the brief and design for the canopy in consultation with English Heritage and Westminster city council under grade I listed building and world heritage site status. The requirements of those consultations led to the costs of the project working out at much more than originally anticipated.


30. Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): If the Commission will take steps to improve the signage for cyclists on the House of Commons estate. [53990]

Nick Harvey: The Commission encourages cycling to and from the estate. I am happy to convey to the appropriate authorities any specific proposal that the hon. Lady may have, whether on signage or any other matter.
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Mary Creagh: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reply. I have several suggestions to make about signage. First, there are absolutely no signs around the building warning unwitting cyclists that they should not park their bicycles against the railings. Many is the time that I have seen police officers removing with angle grinders three and five bicycles that have been left there. Will he perhaps take that back to his colleagues and discuss it? The problem—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. One question is enough. Perhaps those matters might better be the subject of correspondence.

Nick Harvey: I am very happy to convey the burden of the hon. Lady's point to the relevant authorities, but increasing provision has been made for cycling spaces in various parts of the estate. Certainly, if there is evidence of further unsatisfied demand, further spaces will indeed be sought.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): As president of the all-party parliamentary cycling group, I welcome the increased provision that is made on the estate, but I strongly endorse what the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) has just said. Those cyclists who come to the Palace of Westminster to lobby their MPs find it very difficult to park anywhere nearby. Will the Commission improve the facilities for visiting cyclists who are trying to save the planet?

Nick Harvey: It has been concluded thus far that, for security reasons, we cannot let visitors cycle on to the estate, any more than we would allow people to drive in to park. For similar reasons, street cycle parking in the immediate area is not permitted, but visitors can use the cycle parking facilities on Millbank.


The Leader of the House was asked—

European Legislation

31. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): What plans he has to bring forward proposals to reform the way in which EU business is scrutinised. [53991]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Nigel Griffiths): We intend to introduce proposals in response to the detailed report from the Modernisation Committee shortly.

Mark Lazarowicz: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that commitment, but he will know that it has been some years since the proposal for a major change in the scrutiny of EU legislation was first discussed by the House. It is accepted across the House and beyond that scrutinising EU legislation is not something that we do well, so can he give us a more specific indication of when the proposals will be made?
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Nigel Griffiths: There have been ongoing discussions and changes in the way we scrutinise legislation in response to the sort of valid point that my hon. Friend makes, and we want to continue such improvements as quickly as is practical.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The Leader of the House has been intending to introduce such changes for rather a long time now, and those ongoing discussions are apparently happening in the Cabinet, rather than with colleagues across the House, which is a misfortune. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me whether direct discussions were held with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—when we had such a creature—about part 3 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill? Quite obviously, there is no point in improving the legislative background to introducing EU legislation if we cannot improve the scrutiny by the House.

Nigel Griffiths: We have every intention of improving the scrutiny by the House. Indeed, the House has been divided on the issue. The European Scrutiny Committee, by the narrowest of margins, made a recommendation on which it changed its mind. That gave problems to the members of other Committees who were considering the issue. So it is not quite as simple as perhaps some hon. Members would make out, but there is the desire to ensure proper scrutiny. Many hon. Members are critical of the amount of legislation that must be passed, some of which is consequential on European legislation, and therefore there is good will on all sides to tackle the issue, but there is not yet an agreed solution. I hope that we will reach that shortly.

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