HC Deb 13 January 2004 vol 416 cc669-70
35. Mr. David Stewart (Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber) (Lab)

To ask the Leader of the House how many draft Bills have been subject to online consultation. [147109]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Phil Woolas)

Only one draft Bill, the draft Communications Bill in 2002, has so far been the subject of an online forum. However, all draft Bills are subject to online scrutiny to the extent that they are published on the Parliament website, and all Select Committees have published e-mail addresses to which the public may send comments.

Mr. Stewart

Does my hon. Friend agree that online consultation does not mean a choice between Pentiums and Parliament, but is a way of involving the silent majority in the legislative process, and another step in the evolution of Parliament?

Mr. Woolas

Yes, I do agree. I think that online consultation involving online forums is the way forward. These are, of course, matters for the Committees themselves, but my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has expressed his support for that type of consultation, which benefits the reconnection of Parliament with the voting public in many ways.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con)

Does the Deputy Leader of the House agree that what made the online forum considering the Communications Bill so effective was the high quality, well organised moderation of the questionnaires that were sent out electronically, and of the replies that came back? What discussions has he or the Leader of the House had about this, and what is being done to make such facilities available to all Select or Joint Committees that want to undertake online scrutiny? Is it not true that there has been no similar forum since then because the arrangements have not been properly established, and should the hon. Gentleman not get a grip?

Mr. Woolas

My right hon. Friend and I have got a grip, and I am pleased to say that I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The House will know that my right hon. Friend has written to the Chairman of the Liaison Committee opening discussions on the draft Bills that are to be scrutinised and the methods involved. As from this month, Select Committees and Standing Committees are webcast, so that the public can follow their proceedings, and arrangements for the online forum—a more in-depth and useful form of online consultation than a simple e-mail—will follow discussions with the Chairman on scrutiny of draft Bills.