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That Mr Jack Straw and Paddy Tipping be discharged from the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons and Ms Harriet Harman and Chris Bryant be added. [Claire Ward.]
The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): We now debate the Governments draft legislative programmethe list of Bills that we are considering for the next Session. The Prime Minister has said that he wants to see, as part of his constitutional reform agenda, stronger accountability of the Government to Parliament and greater engagement between Parliament and the people. The change in the way that we plan to announce our legislative programme marks a step forward in those respects. Here in Parliament we spend most of our time legislating, so it is right that Parliament should have early sight of the Governments thinking on what we will be asking it to consider. That will allow hon. Members to look at the overall shape of our programme before it is set in stone and will help members of the public and interested parties to give their views to hon. Members. This debate is to enable hon. Members to give their preliminary views on the draft legislative programme, which has been sent to all hon. Members and is on the Governments websites.
Officially, the contents of our legislative programme have always remained secret until the Queens Speech at the state opening of Parliament. However, because of the necessary discussion that has to go on between Government Departments and stakeholders, information does of course get into the public domain, but it does so in the worst wayunofficially and piecemeal. Lobbying firms and political consultancies get paid millions of pounds to guess for their clients what is likely to be in the Queens Speech. However, while bits and pieces are glimpsed unofficially, the work of the Government in putting together their legislative programme has hitherto gone on behind closed doors, with no one outside Government able to see the overview of the legislative programme as a whole until the whole thing is ready to steam ahead into Parliament. Those outside, because they have not been allowed to know before the Queens Speech what the Government are doing, cannot have sensible discussions with the Government. This time last year, I knew that the draft coroners Bill was not in the legislative programme. Those concernedcoroners, organisations of bereaved relatives, and lawyers who specialise in inquest workwere lobbying for changes to the Bill. They would have been better off lobbying for the Bill to be in the legislative programme, but I could not tell them that what mattered at that stage was not some amendments but the fact that it was not even in the programme. It makes sense for people to be able to see the work that is under way in Government before it is set in tablets of stone. This does not in any way change the state opening, the Queens Speech and the role of Her Majesty the Queen in setting out the Governments concluded plans for the Session.
The publication of our draft programme builds on a number of steps that we have taken to improve the ability of this House to scrutinise legislation. We already publish some Bills in draft. To date, we have published 58 Bills in draft since 1997. During this Session we published four bills in draft: the regulatory
enforcement and sanctions Bill, the human tissue and embryos Bill, the climate change Bill and the local transport Bill. I recognise that we would all like to see more Bills published in draft. During the next Session, we intend to publish in draft an equalities Bill, a marine Bill, a heritage protection Bill and a cultural property and armed conflicts Bill.
I can announce today that following the publication of the draft Coroners Bill and its plain English translation, I have asked parliamentary counsel to produce alongside the draft marine Bill a plain language version in time for its introduction. It is my intention that in publishing our draft programme, we should work towards publishing at least one plain language version per Session.
There has also been the Public Bill Committee procedure which, during the current Session, has meant that Government Bills starting in the Commons after Christmas have been subject to additional scrutiny. The UK Borders Bill and the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill have been considered in this way. From the start of the next Session, all Government Bills starting in the Commons will be subject to this procedure, which, by the taking of oral and written evidence from Ministers and other interested parties, as with the Select Committee process, means that there is more extensive scrutiny.
David Wright (Telford) (Lab): I very much welcome the Governments move to increase scrutiny prior to the publication of Bills and draft Bills. Would my right hon. and learned Friend consider opportunities to lay out at an early point the amount of time each Bill will take during a Session, and how much time will be made available on the Floor of the House? In particular, could we consider opportunities to have two-day debates for the Second Reading of Bills, particularly for important ones?
Ms Harman: The Modernisation Committee has considered the amount of time available for Back Benchers when important Bills are introduced, and one of the proposals under consideration is the limitation of Front Bench speeches, so I shall move on quickly with the rest of my comments.
The draft legislative programme before the House is not, of course, the final programme. There will be further careful consideration of the Bills that should form part of our legislative programme both by the Cabinet Committee and by Cabinet. It is always possible that new priorities will emerge, and it is always possible that some Bills will not get to the finishing line because there are problems with the policy or the cost. Constraints of parliamentary time mean that the Government are limited to about 28 Bills per Session, so some will have to wait for the next one. If a Bill is not in the draft programme, that does not mean it is a dead duck. It may still come forward either as a gap emerges in the current programme, or in the next programme.
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con):
I have listened carefully to the right hon. and learned Ladys answer to the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright), and to what she has said since, and I hoped that she would be able to give a commitment to the principle
that two days would be given to Second Reading of some important Bills, and that more time should be given to Report and Third Reading on some occasionsa point raised by the Modernisation Committee. Report stage in particular should be given this time because it is an opportunity for Back Benchers who do not serve on a Bills Committee to raise issues in the House.
Ms Harman: As the right hon. Lady knows, it is important for us to see whether we can give enough time on the Floor of the House to Bills that a number of hon. Members want to speak about. From time to time, that has been done, but I understand that there are proposals that the process should be more systematic and routine. Obviously, those will have to be considered.
I said that if a Bill is not in the draft programme, that does not mean that it will not come forward in the future, and nor does the draft legislative programme substitute for, or cut across, more detailed consultations on Bills that will be led by the Departments concerned. I am a firm believer that the more open the debate, the better the final outcome, and it is in that spirit that we have published the draft legislative programme.
I am grateful to the Liaison Committee for agreeing to undertake detailed scrutiny of this legislative programme. I and the Secretary of State for Justice are to give evidence to it in October. There will be public consultation meetings in each region, facilitated by the Government office in the region, and the Cabinet Office will co-ordinate that consultation process.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): If consultation is to be meaningful and not thought to be a gimmickI welcome the idea of thatwill the Leader of the House undertake to ensure that a summary of consultation results will be available to colleagues, and that the consultation will end in sufficient time for it to be able to influence the outcome? People would know that the consultation would end by the first week in October, or something, we would see the results, and there would be a real dialogue with the Government in the month running up to the Queens Speech.
Ms Harman: Of course we will publish the results of the consultation. Next year, one of the things we should do is start this process earlier, but it started under the new Prime Minister, so there is not as much time for people to consider the draft legislative programme as there will be next year. This is a truncated version of the process; I hope that hon. Members will bear with us and recognise that.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): In the other nations of the UK, where there are no regional offices, will the Scotland Office, Wales Office and Northern Ireland Office ensure similar consultation?
Ms Harman: I am sure that that will be the case. Our officials have liaised with officials in the devolved Administrations and I have discussed the process with the First Ministers in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.
Having set out the reasons behind, and the process of publishing, our draft legislative programme, I will deal with its content. I do that simply by reminding the House of the Prime Ministers words on 11 July. He said that the programme seeks to
respond to the rising aspirations of the British people
new and better opportunities in education, employment and the provision of housing and health care,
that in a fast-changing world there is opportunity and security not just for some people, but for all the British people.[ Official Report, 11 July 2007; Vol. 462, c. 1449.]
There will be an education and skills Bill to enable all young people to stay in education or training till 18. There will be a new pensions Bill to ensure that all working people have the right to a workplace pension, with a duty on every employer to contribute towards it. There will be a new housing and regeneration Bill, which will help put affordable housing within the reach of those who cannot afford to buy or rent.
There will be a health and social care Bill to create a stronger health and social care regulator and ensure better access for patients to clean and safe services. There will be Bills on children in care, and the Government have already introduced the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill for carry-over into the next Session. The unclaimed assets Bill will allow money in dormant bank accounts to go towards improving our countrys youth and community facilities.
The regulatory enforcement and sanctions Bill will support business by keeping regulation of compliant businesses to a minimum, while targeting and penalising those that deliberately disregard the law. The employment simplification Bill will deliver simpler and fairer enforcement of the national minimum wage.
Protecting the security and safety of the British people is paramount for every Government, so we have introduced the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which will be carried over into the next Session, and we stand ready to include provisions that come from the review of policing by Sir Ronald Flanagan.
Mrs. May: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for her generosity in giving way to me a second time. Several Bills that she mentioned will have financial provisions. Last week, the Government exercised parliamentary privilege and prevented the other place from debating amendments to the Pensions Bill, claiming that they were financial provisions and should not be debated again in the Lords. They could not therefore be brought back to the Chamber. Will the right hon. and learned Lady set out her definition of a money Bill as opposed to a Bill with financial provisions?
Hon. Members have read the proposed legislative programme in our Green Paper, so I will say no more about the detail but give them the opportunity to present their views in the debate. I look forward to hearing hon. Members views on not only the content but the process.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): I want to ask about the constitutional reform Bill and its relationship with other measures. Many of us welcome its proposed provisions, not only those to rebalance the relationship between Parliament and the Executive, but those on devolution to the regions. However, the devolution mechanisms in the Bill and the people power elements in, for example, the housing and regeneration Bill, should be tied together in the consultations that will take place in the regions. If reform is perceived as a dry constitutional matter, it will not fire people with the enthusiasm that it would engender if the two measures were related in the consultation.
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend is right. However, I emphasise that, this time round, it will not be a Rolls- Royce process of consultation because we are starting late. We are simply putting a window on the front of Government activities. A great deal of activity goes on in preparing and planning the legislative programme. That is important in the context of what the House ultimately has to consider in the Governments proposed legislation. For the first time, people will be able to see the process before it is set in tablets of stone.
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I welcome the opportunity for the House to debate the draft legislative programme. I also welcome the fact that the right hon. and learned Lady listened to hon. Members concerns and staged this debate separately from tomorrows summer recess Adjournment debate. As she mentioned, the publication of the draft legislative programme was one of the proposals contained in the Prime Ministers statement on The Governance of Britain, which also leads to the constitutional reform Bill.
I wish that I could welcome the Prime Ministers new-found commitment to Parliament. If only it were genuine! Much has been made of his determination to make statements to the House before briefing the media. When he made his statement on the constitution to the House, everyone was impressed that he had not gone on the Today programme to talk about it there first. After the previous Prime Minister, who was so obsessed with spin, here was a new Prime Minister who put Parliament firstat least, so said his spin doctors.
The Prime Ministers statement included proposals to allow Parliament to vote on whether we go to war, to request the dissolution and recall of Parliament, to ratify international treaties, and to scrutinise public appointments, as well as proposals to remove the prime ministerial power to appoint bishops. That was in the statement made on 3 July, but on 2 July The Daily Telegraph reported:
Gordon Brown will this week propose...giving up royal prerogatives traditionally exercised by the prime minister, such as the power to declare war without parliamentary approval or to
appoint bishops to the Church of England. The House of Commons will be given new powers, including the right for MPs to recall Parliament during a recess if there is a national emergency, to hold American-style confirmation hearings...and to ratify international treaties.
I imagine The Daily Telegraph just made five lucky guesses. The same must be true of The Independents coverage of the right to trigger legislation by petition on 28 February, The Guardians prediction of citizens juries on 27 February and the predictions by The Times of a new ministerial code on 16 May and of a new Bill of Rights on 1 July. Before I talk about the draft legislative programme, I want to make one thing clear. All the bluster about announcing things to Parliament first was just that: bluster. There is already a whole list of examples of how the Prime Minister has treated Parliament and hon. Members with disdain.
The Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, promised in the previous Queens Speech, will have its Second Reading in October, just a couple of weeks before the end of the Session. It is going to be a carry-over Bill, but the carry-over procedure was introduced for Bills that had nearly completed their parliamentary stages, not Bills at the very beginning. The Prime Minister has twice reversed policyfirst on casinos, secondly on cannabisin response to planted questions during Prime Ministers questions rather than in an oral statement, which would have given hon. Members the chance to ask questions of the Minister concerned. The Prime Minister has since insinuated to a press conferencenot to Parliamentthat he might reverse the liberalisation of licensing laws. Those proposals are not in the draft legislative programme.
As we discussed in a previous debate this evening, the Prime Minister has also confirmed that Parliamentary Private Secretaries will sit on Select Committees. They might not be formal members of the Government, but they work for Ministers. That is a conflict of interest, but the Prime Minister has ignored it. As I mentioned in my intervention on the right hon. and learned Lady, the Prime Minister also opted to use parliamentary privilege to override the other place, after it voted for a lifeboat fund to compensate properly the 125,000 people who have lost their pension savings. If the Prime Minister trusts Parliament, why has he completely ignored the wishes of the other place?
The Prime Minister is also ready to sign the latest EU treaty, as he made clear in Prime Ministers questions today, which would subjugate the Westminster Parliament to the institutions of the European Union. The conclusions of the previous European Council state:
National parliaments shall contribute actively to the good functioning of the Union.
The Prime Minister, who supposedly believes in the sovereignty of Parliament, is therefore happy to sign a treaty that places upon Parliament an obligation to do whatever the European Court of Justice decides is for the good functioning of the European Union. No, the Prime Minister does not believe in putting Parliament first.
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