Sir George complains about Government's treatment of Parliament
6 Mar 2001
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): The new regime means that great swathes of legislation are going through the House with wholly inadequate scrutiny, and the new system of synchronised voting on Wednesdays is bringing the House into disrepute, but the Labour party does not seem to be getting into its collective bed any earlier than previously. Against that background, would it not be better to scrap the experiment and start again?

Mrs. Beckett: The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that that is not the case. Swathes of legislation are not going through the House with inadequate scrutiny. Well-prepared legislation is going through on a perfectly ordinary time scale--

Sir George Young indicated dissent.

Mrs. Beckett: It is no good the right hon. Gentleman shaking his head. If he looks at the pattern of dates for Bills coming out of Committee under previous Governments, he will find no change whatever--other than that this Government are starting to introduce legislation that requires less Government amendment than was the case under his Government.

As for the notion that the time allowed has been inadequate, I believe that it has been perfectly par for the course. On at least two occasions this Session, a Bill has been reported from Committee slightly before the due date originally set.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): The right hon. Lady knows that the changes to Standing Orders were forced on the House by the dreaded Modernisation Committee--which she chairs--even though the Opposition published a minority report saying that they did not support the move. The experiment has been a shambles. It is no good the right hon. Lady saying that all is well: I give her examples at business questions every week of where the system is failing. I am sure that the hon. Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) is not alone in not understanding that the role of Members of Parliament of all parties is not to do their shopping in their constituencies during the week, but to be here in the House scrutinising legislation and holding the Executive to account.

If the right hon. Lady is going to introduce proposals to improve the working of programme motions, will she confirm that she will have the courtesy to bring them to the Floor of the House for further deliberation by the whole House? In that way, at least the process can be a tad democratic.

Mrs. Beckett: The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) seems to have forgotten that the current experiment was brought to the Floor of the House, and that the decision to implement it was made by the whole House. She said that the decision was forced on the House by the "dreaded Modernisation Committee", but she has either overlooked or forgotten the contents of the minority report that she keeps quoting. That report did not say that programming was a bad thing, nor that it was damaging to democracy. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) alleged that programming somehow deprived Back Benchers of their rights, but the minority report did not say that either. It said that to programme all legislation was a substantial and major step which the Opposition could not support.

However, before either the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton or I served on it, the Modernisation Committee agreed unanimously that we should stick with the regime under which all major legislation was programmed. Opposition Members appear to be suffering from a collective failure of memory when they think that they have never supported the programming proposals. That is not the case: they have supported them.

I entirely agree--and have long argued, before the hon. Lady's time in her present post--that it is a pity that the Government have found it necessary to put in place a framework that allows us to programme all legislation. However, if the House deals with its business efficiently and well, and takes the time that is allowed for scrutinising legislation to do so, there is no reason why we should not see a better conduct of business without quite that degree of vigour.

As for the hon. Lady's remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate), I know that Conservative Members are worried about the much better attention paid by Labour Members to their constituencies, but that is their problem.

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