HC Deb 21 March 2000 vol 346 cc851-2
46. Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

If she will make a statement on the use of timetables for legislation in the House this Session. [114057]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)

This Session there have been only two programme motions, one for the Northern Ireland Bill and one for the Financial Services and Markets Bill, both in February.

Mr. Griffiths

Can the Leader of the House confirm that on six occasions since January, the House has met to consider serious legislation after 2 am? After three years, the Modernisation Committee has, sadly, failed to bring about the changes that are needed. Will she now act quickly to give the House a free vote to ensure that important items of legislation are debated not in the middle of the night but during the sober light of day?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is right to refer to the importance of the sober light of day. I cannot confirm his figures offhand, but the Modernisation Committee is reviewing progress on the timetabling of legislation, which was originally proposed by the Jopling Committee in previous Parliaments, but has been pursued in this one. It will report to the House.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

Are not the Government's difficulties in getting their programme through the House entirely of their own making? Is not the House presented with too many ill-considered and ill-drafted Bills? Does the Leader of the House recognise that if she wants to salvage her legislative programme, she must abandon some Bills, beginning with the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) (No. 2) Bill?

Mrs. Beckett

The right hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong; there is no substance to his point. Our programme for this Session is more than paralleled by those of previous Sessions at the same stage of a Parliament. In the previous Parliament, at the equivalent stage, programme motions were used, and we have had more time for discussing legislation rather than discussing when it should be discussed. We have given that more time, not less.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Is it not a fact that timetabling is good for Governments, good for Oppositions, and, more importantly, good for ensuring proper scrutiny of legislation? Is it not also a fact that it cannot be achieved by voluntary agreement, and must be put in Standing Orders if we are to ensure that timetabling is rigidly adhered to?

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is correct. If such a step were to be taken, it would have to be through some such means. He is also right that timetabling is in the interests of the whole House, which is why successive Governments have proposed it. It is in the interests of a competent Opposition who want to discuss the merits of legislation, but that may be one reason why it has not been popular lately.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Is the Leader of the House aware of the widespread view across the House that the pace of modernisation is slackening and that the Modernisation Committee has a lot more work to do in the current Parliament, particularly on the handling of legislation? Will she confirm that the difference between an agreed programme motion and a timetable motion is critical? Will she insist that the Modernisation Committee and the House be given another opportunity to consider the precise procedure that would allow for more agreed programme motions and avoid the unfortunate antics in the middle of the night that we have suffered because of Conservative Members?

Mrs. Beckett

I do not accept that the Modernisation Committee's work has slowed. Several important experiments are under way, but I accept that it would be in the interests of the whole House, and of better, more effective management, if we spent our time on issues of importance rather than on discussing how we should discuss them. The Modernisation Committee will continue to give its attention to that point.

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