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4 Jun 2009 : Column 386

Philip Davies: When the Prime Minister said that he could not implement the full police pay rise of 2.5 per cent. at arbitration, but could pay only 1.9 per cent. because of the impact on inflation, I tabled a question to the Chancellor asking what the difference would be to the overall inflation rate if either pay rise were implemented. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury gave a long-winded answer that did not address the question. The Office for National Statistics could provide an answer, however, which was that either figure would not have made a blind bit of difference to the overall inflation rate. Clearly, the answer had not been given because it was embarrassing to the Government. Could we make sure that accurate and full answers are given, even if the information might embarrass the Government?

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the Government should provide truthful answers, whether they embarrass the Government or not. I also take the point about providing timely and full answers, which is why this week I wrote to three Departments where there have been difficulties in providing enough timely answers. There is sometimes an issue with the numbers of staff who provide suggested replies to Ministers, and sometimes there is a problem for Ministers: for instance, one Minister in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, answers 600 questions a month. Obviously, that is a pretty severe stress.

I had a sneaking suspicion that the hon. Gentleman might raise the issue of his question last year. I should not say that the three, or perhaps four, paragraphs of the Chief Secretary reply were long-winded; if anything, they were not quite long-winded enough. In fact, on the fuller letter and the question that he asked me previously, I did some following up for him and I think he has had a more substantial answer that goes into some depth about all the issues that he raises.

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): We have had repeated assurances from the Leader of the House that Ministers’ written answers will have attached to them all relevant information, so that it is easily accessible to other Members as well as to members of the public who may read Hansard. It simply is not good enough that Ministers make reference to the “information being in the House of Commons Library”. Earlier this week, however, I received a reply from the Department for Children, Schools and Families concerning the number of children who are taken into care. It is a serious subject that is of huge interest to a number of Members across the political divide as well as to members of the public, and the information referred to was not so long and complex that it could not have been made easily accessible and published in Hansard. Will the Deputy Leader of the House undertake to have a word with the Children’s Secretary, while he still is the Children’s Secretary, to ensure that in future his Department supplies all relevant information in a format that is easily accessible to other Members and to members of the public?

Chris Bryant: I am absolutely sure that the hon. Gentleman is right. Ministers should not provide an answer that refers somebody to some obscure, other document, even if it is in the public domain. That is why I am happy to write again to Ministers and to ensure that we speak to the Cabinet Secretary, so that civil servants, via the permanent secretaries, also understand
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the expectation that hon. Members should not be fobbed off with a half or two-thirds answer, but receive a full answer. My only hesitation is that, before the Government came into power, in 1996-97, there were only 18,439 written questions; in the last Session, however, there were 73,357. Departments have to manage the process properly, so that we have high-quality, timely, faithful and honest answers in every case.

European Scrutiny

2. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of arrangements for the scrutiny by the House of legislation brought forward under the European Communities Act 1972. [277947]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Bryant): EU legislation, as I am sure the hon. Lady knows because she has been around for a while, is transposed into domestic law by a variety of means, including primary legislation, secondary legislation under the 1972 Act and other secondary legislation. We continue to keep the effectiveness of all those methods under review and are happy to listen to proposals for improvement.

Miss McIntosh: The hon. Gentleman will be well advised to take advice from his right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House on the charm factor when responding to questions. He may or may or not be aware that the Government are considering removing part of the draft Flood and Water Management Bill that is before the House and introducing it in secondary legislation under the 1972 Act. Does he share my concern that that process does not allow for the same parliamentary scrutiny as a Public Bill Committee? It is highly regrettable in that regard. The legislation is not contentious, and that is why we should expedite and introduce the main—not a draft—Flood and Water Management Bill, rather than use secondary legislation, which is not subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny.

Chris Bryant: I did not intend to disparage the hon. Lady; I was merely trying to reinforce the view—of the whole House, I am sure—that she has considerable experience and expertise and brings wisdom to all her comments. She has made an important point, although she has completely and utterly misunderstood the Government’s intentions on the particular issue in question. As she knows, we are committed to providing a draft legislative programme, and we will publish it in the not-too-distant future. We will consult on it around the country so that people will be able to put their views on precisely how we should proceed with the measures. We have also introduced the whole process of pre-legislative scrutiny, which gives the hon. Lady the opportunity to make precisely the points that she has made.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Today, the whole nation should be looking at what is coming out of Europe that will affect this country. One of the crucial things to recognise is that transposing European legislation is a passive act of turning what comes concretely from Brussels into facts on the ground in this country. Should not the crucial message to the House and the Government be that we must ensure that that legislation is well and truly scrutinised
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before it is firmed up in Europe, so that when it comes to this country it is in a form that we can make best use of?

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, of course. However, we often transpose EU legislation into UK law not through statutory instruments but through primary legislation. A classic example at the moment is the Coroners and Justice Bill, which transposes large elements of the services directive. Similarly, it is sometimes appropriate for us to bring forward provisions such as the Swine Vesicular Disease Regulations 2009 through statutory instruments; we want to ensure that, after consultation, there is clarity and swiftness around the country in respect of such provisions.

House of Commons Commission

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

Parliamentary Access

3. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What steps the House of Commons Commission is taking to ensure unimpeded access to and from the parliamentary estate for hon. Members and staff at all times. [277948]

Nick Harvey (North Devon): As you have said in the House, Mr. Speaker, the Serjeant at Arms is your contact with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis on all such matters. The Serjeant at Arms continues to impress on the Metropolitan police the need and requirement for vehicle and pedestrian access to the parliamentary estate to be maintained.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: As the House is well aware, recently the Tamil demonstration and protest meant that the access of Members and staff to the House was completely cut off and for long periods was greatly restricted. Only this week, owing to a demonstration by cyclists—representing the Green party and campaigning in the European elections, I understand—Bridge street was closed for a period, thus greatly inconveniencing Members of Parliament.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): And the public!

Sir Nicholas Winterton: And the public as well. Only this week, the very entrance to the House of Commons has been blocked by odd mavericks and others seeking to inconvenience—perhaps even arrest—Members of Parliament. Is it not time that the police, who appear to be completely unable to deal with the situation, developed a strategy and tactics to enable them to ensure that Members and staff of the House, and the public, have unimpeded access to the House of Commons?

Nick Harvey: We are aware of the instance to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but obviously policing on London’s streets is a matter for the Metropolitan police. The service says that it has to give a proportionate response, which, in the light of complaints about the policing of protests, is understandable. However, we will continue to make clear to the service the need for Members to be able to get in and out of the House at all times. For the time being at least, protests in Parliament square are legal and legitimate. If the hon. Gentleman
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and others wish to see a change in the disposition of the law, there may be legislative opportunities to which they will wish to contribute.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I have some grave concerns about what is going on in Parliament square, not least because this is very much an iconic building and we have a lot of tourists who want to visit this area. Equally, I do not entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), in that I think peaceful protest is an important part of the process as well. I want to stress to the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) that rules are already in place. There should be no encampment, as there has been of Tamil demonstrators in the past seven weeks, and there should be no more than 50 protestors at any one time. The police already have considerable powers in this regard, and they should be properly exercised.

Nick Harvey: We will continue a dialogue with the police, and the Serjeant at Arms will continue to make clear to them the need to sustain access to the Palace.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): Although I can well understand Members’ irritation about this, I, too, impress on the hon. Member for North Devon (Nick Harvey) the need to recognise that there is a balance to be struck between the convenience of Members and the legitimate right to peaceful protest, and to ensure that whatever solution is found to the current issues out there, that balance is struck.

Nick Harvey: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. However, I stress again that any change to the legislation is a matter for this House, while the detailed arrangements for policing the streets are a matter for the Metropolitan police, and the Serjeant at Arms will continue to impress upon them the need to maintain access.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Is it not a fact that the licence for the noisy use of amplified broadcasting equipment ran out long ago, and that no enforcement of the existing laws is being carried out? As long ago as October, we were promised in this House that legislation was imminent. When are we going to see it?

Nick Harvey: The timing of legislation is not a matter for me. The Joint Committee on the Constitutional Renewal Bill has been looking at the provisions, and we await with interest the legislation’s coming before the House.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Business of the House

5. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): If she will bring forward proposals to establish a business committee to determine the House’s business; and if she will make a statement. [277954]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Chris Bryant): Confidence in Parliament has certainly taken a hit in recent months, and the questions of timetabling
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and a business committee, which are being considered by the Procedure Committee, are ones that we need to address, bringing together Members from all parts of the House.

Simon Hughes: I am grateful for that more conciliatory response to the question than I have heard from the Minister before. Given that the Prime Minister is now clear that constitutional reform needs to go more quickly, and that the public seem clear that Parliament and the Government should be separate so that we can do our job in holding the Government to account, I hope that Ministers will now be positive about the business of Parliament—the House of Commons—being determined by Parliament, not by Government, and will be very supportive of this proposal.

Chris Bryant: Obviously, the Government are the Government only because they have a majority in Parliament. That makes the system that we have to have in this country somewhat different from that in some other countries, particularly those where there is no one party with a majority. The hon. Gentleman and others have made interesting points on this issue, and we want to ensure that that debate can be carried forward properly. In our present system, we have substantial measures to ensure that elements of the business are not decided entirely by Government but by the Opposition. Indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House is about to announce several days coming up that have not been determined by Government at all.

House of Commons Commission

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

Freedom of Information Act

6. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): How much has been spent from the House of Commons administration vote on completed administrative and legal challenges to decisions of the Information Commissioner, the Information Tribunal and the courts made in respect of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. [277955]

Nick Harvey (North Devon): Legal actions have incurred external costs to the administration estimate of £55,361 to date. The internal costs associated with legal challenges are absorbed within the cost of running the House administration and cannot be separately identified. The figure does not include costs charged to the Members’ estimate.

Andrew Selous: A number of my constituents have asked whether that sum might be paid back out of existing budgets of the House of Commons. Is that possible?

Nick Harvey: I am unclear what the hon. Gentleman means. To whom would it be paid back, and by whom? If the money were paid to the Treasury from the House of Commons administration estimate, then it would be going round in a circle. I cannot see what public interest would be served by such a transaction.

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Business of the House

11.34 am

Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the future business of the House?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 8 June—Motion to approve the seventh report from the Standards and Privileges Committee on Unauthorised Disclosure of Heads of Report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, followed by Second Reading of the Health Bill [ Lords].

Tuesday 9 June—Opposition day [12th allotted day]. There will be a debate on youth crime followed by a debate on housing policy. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Wednesday 10 June—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Geneva Conventions and United Nations Personnel (Protocols) Bill [ Lords], followed by Opposition day [Unallotted half-day]. There will be a half-day debate on a motion relating to the Dissolution of Parliament in the name of the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru.

Thursday 11 June—Topical debate: subject to be announced, followed by a general debate on social mobility and fair access to the professions.

Friday 12 June—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 15 June will include:

Monday 15 June—Opposition day [13th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion: subject to be announced.

Tuesday 16 June—A general debate on European Affairs.

Wednesday 17 June—Mr. Speaker’s valedictory and tributes by the House, followed by consideration of Lords Amendments.

Thursday 18 June—Topical debate: subject to be announced—followed by general debate: subject to be announced.

Friday 19 June—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 22 June will include:

Monday 22 June—The House will meet to elect a Speaker.

Tuesday 23 June—Second Reading of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill [ Lords].

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 25 June and 2 July will be:

Thursday 25 June—A debate on the report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights entitled “A Bill of Rights for the UK?”

Thursday 2 July—A debate on the European Commission’s annual policy strategy.

Alan Duncan: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business.

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