In what may be his last speech in this Parliament, Sir George attacked the Government for its record on strengthening Parliament
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Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): May I endorse what the right hon. and learned Lady said in her concluding remarks and thank all those who have worked in the House and done a fantastic job supporting us and helping us to perform our duties to the public? This has not been the most illustrious of Parliaments, but I hope that those of us who are returned in six weeks' time can work together to ensure that the next one is better.
This could be a long day, because nine hours are programmed for debate after this debate, which can go on until 7 o'clock. That is in addition to any votes and consideration of any Lords amendments, so I shall keep my comments to a minimum. As I said yesterday, the Conservatives have taken, and will continue to take over the next few days, a constructive approach to the Bills before the House. I must say that there would have been much less to wash up had we spent less time earlier in the Session on the so-called declaratory Bills-the motherhood and apple pie Bills, which were simply press releases put into legislation. They took time away from the important Bills, some of which now confront us. We could thus have made faster progress on them.
It is of course the collective responsibility of the House to ensure that the legislation is properly scrutinised. The Government have no divine right to get their Bills on to the statute book if they have not gone round the course. Conservative Members are pleased that some of the more objectionable sections of these Bills have been removed, and I hope we can work together to ensure that the good bits safely reach the statute book. I will leave it to my various Front-Bench colleagues to pass comment on each Bill as we reach it.
Let me return to the point that took up much of the right hon. and learned Lady's speech, but first may I respond to the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith)? The Opposition have in no way obstructed the bringing forward of the Standing Orders, which is what he implied. I echo the thoughts of colleagues across the House, who are bitterly disappointed that the Leader of the House has failed to find the time for the debate on the Back-Bench business committee.
Sir Robert Smith: I was not implying that but genuinely seeking to learn from the Leader of the House, as it was a two-party negotiation, where the stumbling block was. The Government are clearly the stumbling point. I welcome the fact that the shadow Leader of the House seems to be committed to that proposal. Is that commitment one that he thinks he could deliver if he were in government?
Sir George Young: I have a peroration that, if the hon. Gentleman can contain himself, will give him the answer to his question.
I was checking up on the commitments the right hon. and learned Lady had given this House. On 11 March, she said that
it is gratifying that there were very big majorities in the House last week to resolve this matter and move forward. We have the resolutions of the House. My task now is to make sure that the House is given an opportunity to endorse the Standing Orders that will give effect to them. My mandate is the will of the House as expressed in the resolutions. We need Standing Orders to give effect to them-nothing less."-[ Official Report, 11 March 2010; Vol. 507, c. 433.]
On 18 March she said:
"need not worry about progress being made on the proposals that we shall be going forward with. We need to complete the process of placing before the House for its approval the Standing Orders that would give effect to the resolutions of the House, and they will indeed be brought forward"-[ Official Report, 18 March 2010; Vol. 507, c. 975.],
and on 25 March:
"On the Reform of the House of Commons Committee proposals, we have put on the Order Paper the Standing Orders that give effect to the resolutions of the House, and we will bring those forward for approval by the House on Monday."-[ Official Report, 25 March 2010; Vol. 508, c. 380.]
She did not-she had to withdraw that commitment in a subsequent debate on the same day.
The Leader of the House has to accept responsibility. She could have found the time-an hour and a half-between the beginning of March and now to debate the Standing Orders and for the House to reach a conclusion. On an earlier occasion, because one of my independently minded Back-Bench colleagues objected to a private Member's Bill, she tried to pin the responsibility on the official Opposition. By the same analogy, those who have objected to these Standing Orders are all members of her party and, by the same logic, she must accept some collective responsibility for the fact that it is Labour Members of Parliament who have tabled amendments that have obstructed their progress.
In a recent argument in The House Magazine, the right hon. and learned Lady declared, in reference to parliamentary reforms, "Bring it on, Sir George". In the light of what has now happened, I am delighted to confirm to the House that that is exactly what I might have to do in a few weeks' time.