HC Deb 08 May 2001 vol 368 cc16-7
43. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

What steps she proposes to take to improve the ability of the House to hold the Executive to account. [159332]

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

I propose to continue the experimental sittings in Westminster Hall, which have given Back Benchers more than double the number of daytime Adjournment debates and increased fourfold opportunities to debate Select Committee reports. Those steps must be seen alongside other steps in the extension of scrutiny that have already been made. They include broadening the remit of the European Scrutiny Committee, setting up a Select Committee on Environmental Audit and a Joint Committee on Human Rights, agreeing to the Procedure Committee's proposals for the improved scrutiny of treaties and increasing the opportunities for pre-legislative scrutiny.

Mr. Brady

Given the strength of support from Members on both sides of the House for the implementation of the Liaison Committee report "Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive", is it not a sign of the contempt in which the Government hold the House of Commons that we have been denied a free vote on that report in this Parliament?

Mrs. Beckett

No, that is nonsense. The report has been debated, as the hon. Gentleman correctly said. He is right that many Members support the proposals in the report, but many other Members have great reservations about many of the proposals. On bow the issues can be thrashed out, I point out that they have been debated and no doubt they will be discussed again.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

My right hon. Friend will have considered the way in which the Opposition have conducted their business this Session. If she is Chairman of the Modernisation Committee it the new Parliament, could she not propose that the Opposition use their time far more effectively instead of engaging in time wasting? They would then be able to carry out their function of scrutiny, about which they protest so much.

Mrs. Beckett

There is some justice in my hon. Friend's remarks. I hope very much that the Conservative party will have the benefit of a few more years in which to build up its experience of opposition. Given its propensity to knee-jerk reaction to any proposals of the type that have been mentioned, that is sorely needed so that it can effectively use the time of the House for scrutiny. The Opposition attempt to do and say anything that they hope will embarrass the Government as opposed to considering what will be workable and to the advantage of the House as a whole.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire)

The Lord President will know that the Opposition have committed themselves to a number of important reforms in this area. Can she assure us that, when Parliament is dissolved, the Labour party will also go into the next election fizzing with new ideas about how this place can hold the Government to account and seeking to reverse the damage that it has done in the past four years?

Mrs. Beckett

The right hon. Gentleman is correct to say that the Conservative party is committed to a number of reforms. It had 18 years to implement many of them, but it utterly failed to do so. I assure him that we keep under review the proposals that have been made. If we are returned to power, we hope to build on the improvements and the greater availability of scrutiny from which the House has already benefited