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T4. [270319] Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): In October last year, when oil was around $70 a barrel, a litre of unleaded petrol cost the motorist about £1.07, yet in June 2007, when oil was around $71 dollars a barrel, a litre of unleaded cost 97p. Does that not indicate a degree of market failure among some of the major petrol retailers? Why have the Government not instructed the Competition Commission to instigate an inquiry to make sure that the beleaguered
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motorist is treated fairly, not least because the motorist was clobbered again in the Budget yesterday? Does the Minister not realise that many people have no choice but to use their car?

Mr. Mike O’Brien: It is the case, of course, that the escalator was introduced by a Conservative Government. But let us not go there; let us instead deal with the real issue of the price of fuel for cars. The price of petrol and diesel spiked last year; that was a substantial burden for the motorist, but the price has gone down sharply. It is dependent, obviously, on the overall world economic situation. The demand for oil responds very quickly to global financial circumstances and, as a result, prices have fallen, but it is interesting that they have started to rise again, albeit not to a substantial extent. On the price of oil there is not only a need to ensure that we are able to get out of the recession without it spiking too high; we also need to sustain investment in the oil and gas industry, particularly—from the UK’s point of view—in the North sea.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): What support are the Government giving to the reopening of Harworth deep-mine colliery in my constituency?

Mr. O’Brien: The Government are working, and are in discussions, to ensure that we can encourage the process of reopening Harworth, but there are still further quite detailed discussions to be had.

T6. [270321] Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): Can we not have a more balanced discussion on climate change? We are told so often that the north pole is melting, yet Arctic ice has reached a maximum area this winter, and the British Antarctic Survey has confirmed that over the past 30 years, the area of sea ice around the continent has expanded. In fact, the south pole has experienced significant cooling in the past 30 years. Why do we not hear the facts, so that we can make up our mind about what is happening?

Edward Miliband: I am all for unconventional thinking, but I say to the hon. Lady that on these sorts of questions, it is best to trust the science. [Interruption.] If she will let me finish my answer, I can point out that the overwhelming scientific consensus is that climate change is real, is happening, and is man-made. I really worry about an approach that says, “We can leave all this to one side, because perhaps it is not happening”, as that is not what the scientists are telling us. To take one year, or one fact, and say that somehow it shows that climate change is not happening is precisely what the scientists tell us that we must not do. We must look at the trend over 20 or 30 years, and that shows unequivocally that climate change is happening.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Parliamentary Scrutiny

1. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): How many Report stages of Bills there were in the 2007-08 Session; and in what proportion of these all selected amendments were debated. [270324]

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The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Bryant): There were 27 Report stages in 2007-08, of which 24 were on Government Bills. In seven of those cases, all the groups of selected amendments were debated. That represents a proportion of about one in four.

Mr. Bone: The Deputy Leader of the House was a well-respected and highly regarded parliamentarian before he was plucked from the Back Benches and put on to the Front Bench. Not many people are listening today, so will he say what his personal view is? It really is not good enough—scrutiny is not great enough and the Government are failing.

Chris Bryant: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the kind comments he made. On Shakespeare’s birthday, perhaps I could say that some have greatness thrust upon them.

All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that there is no difference between my Back-Bench view and my Front-Bench view. I believe that many Members confuse the difference between Committee stage and Report stage. Many members of the Procedure Committee have told me that they would much prefer a system involving time limits on speeches on Report, although I am not sure that that is the right way to go. We would like to consider all amendments, but as he perfectly well knows, many amendments tabled on Report are a response to Committee requests from Opposition Members, so I think that that shows the system is working.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): But it transparently is not working. Only a couple of months ago, Mr. Speaker, you intervened to allow a vote on a matter that a lot of Members felt was important, without any discussion at all. Does that not in itself illustrate the fact that we are failing to debate matters that Members of the House think are important, and instead conforming to a timetable devised by the Government Whips that reflects the Government’s interests and not those of Back Benchers? Is it not the duty of the Deputy Leader of the House and the Leader of the House to ensure that matters that Members want to debate on Report are debated properly?

Chris Bryant: My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House and I try our level best to make sure that there is adequate time for all the subjects that all Members want to debate. Just because one Member wants to debate one issue does not necessarily mean that he wants to prevent other people from debating other issues. In particular, the hon. Gentleman knows very well that on the day to which he refers, Members from the Government Whips’ office and I, and Members from his own team, were in lengthy discussions about how we could make sure that we had proper debate of every single item. Furthermore, on that Bill, there were two days for Report. My right hon. and learned Friend and I are keen to try to make sure that happens on every occasion, but we will not be able to achieve perfection.

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): In her very first business questions on 5 July 2007, at Hansard column 1091, the Leader of the House said that she was very keen to ensure that Back Benchers’ rights were protected and that there was proper scrutiny of legislation. However, as we have just heard, that
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simply is not happening, so even now, will the Deputy Leader of the House give an assurance that his right hon. and learned Friend’s original pledge will be honoured? Perhaps the right hon. and learned Lady could start by ensuring that instead of curtailing legislation she curtails our ever-lengthening summer recess.

Chris Bryant: I remember my right hon. and learned Friend’s comments on her first day as Leader of the House, and I know from every single week that she has been in that post that she has been trying to make sure that we have adequate debate on every single amendment. It is not always perfection. We strive, and we have constant discussions. If Members are ever unhappy with the process all they need to do is to come round and talk to my right hon. and learned Friend or me to see whether there are ways of making more space and time available. As the hon. Gentleman knows, quite often the discussions between the usual channels are not necessarily reflected in the comments that are then made from the Opposition Front Bench.

House of Commons Commission

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

Employment Contracts

2. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What recent discussions the House of Commons Commission has had with the trade union representing hon. Members’ staff on the development of a basic employment contract for such staff. [270325]

Nick Harvey (North Devon): The House of Commons Commission has had no recent discussions with trade unions or staff associations on the basic employment contract for Members’ staff. The Commission and the House are not the employer of Members’ staff; each Member is an employer in his or her own right. However, it is a condition of drawing public funds to employ staff that Members use standard contracts, job descriptions and pay scales.

David Taylor: Pending the announced review of employment arrangements for Members’ staff, the Green Book says that a standard contract must be used, and in practice MPs use that contract as is. The present contract represents the lowest common denominator in employment standards and is poor compared, for example, with those held by civil servants doing an equivalent job. When will the House recognise the staff union Unite so that staff themselves can have a say in improving the standard contract and other terms and conditions?

Nick Harvey: If hon. Members, their staff or, indeed, trade unions or associations to which the staff belong wish to make representations about the basic contract, they are certainly welcome to make them to the Committee on Members’ Allowances, which has responsibility for the contract. The issue of recognition of the union goes back to my point that the House is not the employer of Members’ staff, and because the House is not the employer, it is not in a position to recognise the union for collective bargaining purposes. However, as the hon. Gentleman
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knows, staffing arrangements will be voted on next week, and perhaps there will be a different situation thereafter.

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): Given the discussions that we will have next week, will the Commission consider the feasibility of extending to Members’ staff the entitlement to join the House pension scheme? One member of my staff has worked for me for 16 years and is on one of the higher grades for Members’ staff. As a result of paying into the money purchase pension scheme that is available to Members’ staff, that employee would—the last time I checked—receive a pension of just £2,200 a year. I do not think that that is either satisfactory or a decent way to treat our staff, who are just as important to us Members discharging our duties as the staff of the House are. Will the hon. Gentleman ask the Commission to look at that very important issue?

Nick Harvey: As I have already indicated, this is a matter about which the hon. Gentleman, staff or anybody else is welcome to make representations to the Committee on Members’ Allowances. In the event that the arrangements should change after next week’s debate, the issue could be looked at, but as far as I am aware, as long as staff are employed by Members, there is no prospect of their joining the House pension scheme, because it is not available to non-employees of the House.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many people feel it is crucial that Members should continue to employ staff directly? It is wholly right and proper that they should be paid via the Department of Resources, as they are, and that they should have proper contracts that are lodged with that Department, but will he do all he can with his fellow Commissioners to ensure that we do not move to this central employment by the House?

Nick Harvey: This is a matter that I understand the House will have a chance to vote on next week, and the hon. Gentleman and others will have their chance to make their view known then.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Representation of Women

3. Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): If she will make arrangements for the House to mark anniversaries of significant historical events which led to increases in the representation of women in Parliament. [270326]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Bryant): We are proud of every step that has been taken to increase the representation of women in Parliament, which is why we celebrated last year the 90th anniversary of a woman’s right to stand. We shall shortly introduce the equality Bill, and the Speaker’s Conference is already considering the issue of representation of women in the
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House. We very much hope that these events will become similarly important landmarks that Members will want to celebrate in 50 years’ time.

Jo Swinson: I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for that reply. One hundred years ago on Monday, suffragettes chained themselves to statues in St. Stephen’s hall, and to remove those women, the statues had to be broken. In fact, one can still see a piece of that history today, as the repairs form part of the parliamentary tour. How might we improve and better use such anniversaries to highlight the history of women’s representation and, most importantly, to encourage more women to become involved in politics?

Chris Bryant: The hon. Lady ends with the most important point, which is how we ensure that more women want to come to Parliament and have the opportunity to represent a constituency in the House. We could celebrate many more events. For instance, next week is the 80th anniversary of the first woman Cabinet member taking her post; Margaret Bondfield was, appropriately enough, the Minister for Labour; of course, she was a Labour Minister. We are also delighted that it is our side of the House that has produced the first elected black woman MP. [ Interruption. ] If the hon. Ladies want a commemoration of the first woman Prime Minister, I suspect that it will not be happening in the Rhondda.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): There is a statue of her in the Lobby.

Chris Bryant: As the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Advisory Committee on Works of Art, points out, there is a very fine—if rather frightening—statue in the Lobby. I can assure him that if it were in the Rhondda, it would not get the same reception as it gets from Opposition Members.

Commons Business Committee

5. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What recent representations she has received on establishing a Commons business Committee; and if she will make a statement. [270329]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Bryant): We have intermittent representations on this issue, including, very regularly, from the hon. Gentleman. The last time the House considered a legislative business Committee, however, it rejected the idea.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Is the Deputy Leader of the House aware that there is a group in the House called Parliament First, which is fully representative of all parties? Its members are very senior and experienced, and they believe that the only way in which the House can meet the aspirations of the Prime Minister, who believes that the House should be the centre of our democratic procedures, is to have a business Committee representative of Back Benchers so that the House can attain some independence from the Executive, who currently dominate the House to the disadvantage of democracy.

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Chris Bryant: I do know of the group to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Indeed, the Members on it are so senior that I try not to meddle with them too often. However, all that glisters is not gold. If we introduced a business Committee, I think that the hon. Gentleman would find that we would lose a lot of the flexibility that we have at present, which is enjoyed by Members on all sides of the House—

Sir Nicholas Winterton: Both sides.

Chris Bryant: On both sides of the House. In addition, under our current arrangements, Standing Orders limit the Government in significant ways—for instance, they ensure that there are 20 Opposition days a year. Furthermore, after both the Budget and the Queen’s Speech there are five days of debate in which the topic is decided by the Opposition, not the Government. That is more flexible and a better system.

Delegated Legislation

6. Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): What recent consideration she has given to the effectiveness of the House’s procedures for scrutinising delegated legislation. [270330]

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The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Bryant): As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, delegated legislation is subject to a number of different procedures, usually depending on the provisions in its parent Act. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House and I continue to monitor the effectiveness of all the House’s procedures.

Norman Baker: The Deputy Leader of the House will know that a great deal of legislation goes through, necessarily, by statutory instrument, but he will also be aware that it is impossible to amend such statutory instruments; we are given a “take it or leave it” option when such an instrument is put before a Committee upstairs in the Committee corridor. Does he not agree that legislation might be better if amendments to statutory instruments were permitted during such consideration?

Chris Bryant: Again, this is a proposal that seems attractive but which in the end I do not think is a good idea. As Lord Rippon said in the Hansard Society commission back in 1992, an amendable statutory instrument would be very like a Bill, and all the advantages of the greater flexibility of delegated legislation would be lost. The truth of the matter is that if the Government want to provide for a full legislative process, with amendments possible, it should be primary, not secondary, legislation that is being brought forward.

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