HC Deb 19 March 2002 vol 382 c168
47. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

What assessment he has made of the implications for legislative scrutiny of the experimental arrangements for programming of legislation. [41561]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Stephen Twigg)

I am delighted that anticipation of my answer to the question seems to have filled the Conservative Benches. When hon. Members from all parties have worked together constructively, I believe that programming has achieved its objective of providing a more robust framework for scrutiny of legislation.

Mr. Brady

Does the Parliamentary Secretary share my concern that under the new programming arrangements, Committees are all too often denied the opportunity properly to scrutinise legislation, especially through the operation of what have become known as knives, used by Government Whips? Are not important aspects of legislation undebated by hon. Members? The Education Bill, which has gone to the House of Lords, included powers for the Secretary of State to form companies, powers for school governors, provisions for forming federations of schools and for admissions, exclusions and attendance. All were undebated by the House of Commons and we now have to depend on another place to do our job for us. Is not that regrettable?

Mr. Twigg

We shall, of course, keep the progress of programming under review. Flexibility is built into the programming regime. For example, an additional day was provided for discussion of the Education Bill on Report. Programming can benefit all hon. Members, but the Opposition have a choice about whether they want to use it for delay and obstruction or for genuine scrutiny and debate. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the memo that the shadow Leader of the House sent last September. It stated:

We should be more discriminating in targeting Bills in Standing Committee, putting 'A' teams on the bigger … Bills to ensure searching scrutiny, testing out Ministers, and that the Bill cannot he completed in the allocated time, thus passing it to the Lords imperfectly scrutinised. The Opposition have a choice about how to handle their tactics. Better programming gives an opportunity for better scrutiny, better debate and therefore better law.

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