HC Deb 18 April 2000 vol 348 cc824-5
46. Mr. John Healey (Wentworth)

If she will make a statement on the number of bills produced in draft in (a) the 1997–98 session and (b) each subsequent session to date. [118172]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping)

Three draft Bills or parts of Bills were produced in Session 1997–98, six in Session 1998–99, but none so far this Session. Some Departments have, however, consulted informally on Bills in preparation and some draft Bills are expected shortly.

Mr. Healey

I welcome my hon. Friend's declaration that more draft Bills are on the way. Does he recognise that the modernisation of our procedure is strongly backed by many inside and outside the House? Does he also agree that greater use of pre-legislative scrutiny gives greater scope for further modernisation of House procedures, including, perhaps, carrying over legislation, timetabling Bills and even introducing the concept of a voting hour?

Mr. Tipping

My hon. Friend makes several important points. First, draft Bills have been welcomed widely across a number of communities. Secondly, Bills have been improved substantially by pre-legislative scrutiny. Finally, he is right that pre-legislative scrutiny is part of a wider package of measures on which we need to make more progress.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

The Opposition very much welcome the publication of Bills in draft. However, is it not unwise to assume that, just because a Bill has been first published in draft, it will then take less time to pass through the House of Commons and the upper House; and does not the fate of the Financial Services and Markets Bill and the Freedom of Information Bill disprove that assumption? To avoid over-programming the House's time with Government Bills, will the Government be more realistic about the time required by Bills that were first considered in draft when they come before the House?

Mr. Tipping

Clearly, Bills can be improved by pre-legislative scrutiny. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the Freedom of Information Bill. Again, that was improved in draft, but there were major policy differences that could not be resolved. He also mentioned the Financial Services and Markets Bill. Of course, during its long preparation, the market itself changed; the stock market was demutualised and that had implications for the Bill. However, he is right to say that it would not be wise to assume that, just because a Bill is published in draft, it will have an easier passage. The converse may be true, because people have more time to think about it. Whatever body is asked to scrutinise a draft Bill must have time to do that. It involves a difficult balancing act, because programmed Bills will always need to take priority.