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The right hon. Member for Maidenhead was particularly critical of the fact that a number of the items in the draft legislative programme were already known to her, because they had been in draft Bills, White Papers and Green Papers or because of various consultations. She totally fails to realise that that is not a criticism; it is, in fact, a strength. It shows that the Government are more open and that we are providing opportunities for pre-legislative scrutiny that never existed in the years before we came to power.
My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Washington, East (Mr. Kemp) spoke about how the programme will benefit his constituency. In particular, he talked about the Local Transport Bill and the importance of having high-quality public transport and giving local authorities power and control over the planning of local transport. The powers that will be given to local authorities will improve the quality of transport and enable them to pull together planning for land and for transport. That will make a significant difference to the quality of local transport.
My hon. Friend spoke about his constituents problems. His constituency obviously has a significant legacy of heavy industry. He spoke movingly about his constituents problems with asbestos-related diseases, which the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill will address. It is absolutely clear that only a Labour Government would have taken steps to address that important problem.
My hon. Friend also spoke about the education and skills Bill, the importance of taking a long-term, strategic approach and the difficulty of predicting the way that the economy will develop and therefore the importance of giving people a broad, flexible education as they go through life. I will draw all those points to the attention of the relevant Ministers.
The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) welcomed the new process, although he said that the timetable was a bit short. It might be appropriate for me also to comment now on the points made by the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) on the timetable, which he felt was slightly truncated, and on the difficulty of responding to the process. I should like to tell hon. Members that, far from being limited to 1,000 characters on the website, any member of the public who wishes to respond to the legislative programme is free to e-mail the Leader of the House or myself. In fact, this afternoon I received a seven-page e-mail on the draft legislative programme from the Royal National Institute of Blind People.
The RNIBs e-mail describes in detail its response to the whole legislative programme. It does not focus on health matters. It looks at transport in particular. Publishing the draft programme now gives it the opportunity to develop that kind of cross-cutting, wide-ranging approach.
May I refer the hon. Lady to a copy of the page that I have from the Cabinet Office, which specifically refers to 1,000 characters? Nowhere on it do I see a reference to the fact that people can write in
separately. Does she agree that if the public can write in separately, it makes sense to advise them of that, rather giving a one-way direction asking for no more than 1,000 characters?
Helen Goodman: The website makes it perfectly clear that members of the public can e-mail the Leader of the House or the Deputy Leader of the House. Were it not clear, we would not have received the submission this afternoon.
Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): I am conscious of the fact that it is eight minutes since the hon. Lady started speaking and the Leader of the House has still not appeared. Does the hon. Lady happen to know where the Leader of the House is, and where she is on her way from? It seems rather a long time to be leaving the hon. Lady on her own. [ Interruption. ]
There was also a complaint that there were many Bills on the same subject. I would like to point out that it is this Government who introduced pre-legislative scrutiny, and who doubled the level of resources for parliamentary counsel to ensure that drafting was done properly. The constant complaints from Opposition Members about the clarity of legislation are a slur on the professionalism of parliamentary counsel.
Furthermore, situations changeand when they do, it would be foolish not to look again at the legislative framework. Finally, we are going to consider the proposals from the Law Commission on post-legislative scrutiny. I hope that that, in particular, will meet some of the concerns that were expressed.
Simon Hughes: I am very grateful. The hon. Lady knows that, as I have acknowledged, all the things that she has said are welcome. One thing that would lessen the burden on parliamentary counsel, as well as on everybody else, would be not to introduce in October a Bill that the Government propose to amend substantially in November. Will she and her colleague think again about taking the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill out until it is ready to be put in, so that everybody will be better off and less under pressure?
The hon. Gentleman said in his speech that the key criterion that he used for judging the quality of legislation was whether it increased liberty and whether it devolved decisions. It was this Government who introduced the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Freedom of Information Act 2000. In the current Session, we have introduced the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, which does precisely what he is calling for.
The hon. Gentleman also talked about the possible benefits, as he sees it, of having a business committee of the whole House. In this Chamber, the risk with having a business committee is that it would simply be used to obstruct the legislative programme that people have voted for, and which was in the Governments manifesto. What he is suggesting is really rather impractical.
The hon. Gentleman also spoke about the importance of children in care. He is absolutely right: we are concerned, which is why the legislation that we will introduce will enable the voice of the child to be heard, and will improve the quality and stability of placements. The hon. Gentleman said that he wanted to see more Bills in plain English, and that is precisely what we are going to do with the marine Bill.
The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members said that they wanted us to put forward only necessary legislation. That is rather like the position that Opposition parties take on spending cuts and tax cuts. It is very easy to say in general, Oh yes, we dont want that piece of legislation, but not one hon. Member in the whole debate made a single suggestion about what particular measures they did not want to see.
Mr. Kemp: On that point, in the interests of cross-party consensus, does my hon. Friend think that it would be a good idea to invite Her Majestys official Opposition to publish an alternative Queens Speech, so that we could see what ideological direction the Tory party would take?
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) made a typically thoughtful and wide-ranging speech. In particular, he discussed housing need in his constituency. He pointed out that housing is a devolved matter, and it was disappointing that the right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) did not take the opportunity to set out the housing policy that
Mr. Salmond: I know that I serve in two Chambers, and these days I am a model of consensual government and patiencethat patience is being rewardedbut I can only be in government in one Chamber at a time. If the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) wants to transport himself to the Scottish Parliament, I am sure that I will be able to answer all his questions even better than the Deputy Leader of the House is managing to answer them.
At one point in our discussion on housing, I felt that we were about to move into a full-scale debate on housing policy. The needs of Travellers were raised, and I assure hon. Members that
we will introduce legislation to address the security of tenure issues that are of particular concern to that community.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith made a point about planning gain supplement revenues generated in areas covered by a devolved Administration. Let me make it absolutely clear that those revenues will be returned to the country in which they are generated, but their use will be determined by the relevant Administration. He also spoke about the importance of tackling fuel poverty, and I am sure that the energy Bill will help to ensure that energy supply companies focus their efforts much more tightly than they have done hitherto.
Mark Lazarowicz: I would like to go back to my hon. Friends previous point; I was not sure whether she was going to say any more about it. My problem is not about whether the money raised by the planning gain supplement will return to the devolved Administrations; it is clearly right that it should. My problem is about ensuring that once it returns to a devolved Administration, it goes a bit further and is passed down to the communities from which it originated. I know that that is a matter for the devolved Parliaments to discuss, and that is fine, but I hope that my hon. Friend will give me an assurance that it is for the majorities in the devolved Parliaments to decide on the matter, and that the decision will not be left to a minority Government with minority support.
Helen Goodman: That issue will have to be taken up elsewhere. My hon. Friend also talked about the importance of having a marine Bill. Through our manifesto, we are committed to introducing a marine Bill, and we will do so in the coming Parliament. We will publish a draft in the coming year, to ensure full pre-legislative scrutiny. He also spoke about the important pre-legislative scrutiny that has just been undertaken on the Climate Change Bill.
The hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) spoke about issues that related particularly to women. He considered the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill and asked whether it would present an opportunity for amendments on abortion to be made. He described his views on abortion, which were typically subtle and nuanced. Obviously, whether hon. Members will be able to make amendments is a matter for the House authorities. There has been pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, and I do not at this stage know whether the report from the Joint Committee on the Draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill will address that question. By chance, the report is being published tomorrow, so the hon. Gentleman will not have to wait long to find out the answer. I caution the hon. Gentleman that the Bill is an extremely important piece of legislation about balancing the ethical and the scientific issues. Abortion is also an extremely important issue, but it may not be entirely helpful for either piece of law to handle them together.
John Bercow: I appreciate that nuanced, calibrated and subtle response to my earlier point. If the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill is not the appropriate vehicle for a discussion of potential reform of the abortion law, I hope the Government will provide an alternative vehicle. The matter needs to be addressed, and sooner rather than later.
Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman made it plain earlier that that was his view. He also spoke about the importance of a single equalities Bill. Again, that is a matter on which Labour made a manifesto commitment, and we will produce a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny over the coming year, so that we have a thorough and well-grounded piece of legislation to introduce at a later stage, as time allows. It is particularly pleasant to listen to the hon. Member for Buckingham, who always gives such positive endorsement of the Labour Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) spoke in her usual sensitive but energetic way about the needs of her constituents. She spoke about the problems of housing and homelessness and suggested a number of practical solutions. I know that since she was elected she has been concerned about the structure of housing benefit. We will ensure that the Department for Work and Pensions reads her speech so that it can consider the matter further. My hon. Friend also spoke about counter-terrorism and the importance of making progress on that. I hope she will be satisfied with the way in which the Prime Minister set out in his statement this afternoon how future consultation will work.
The right hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) made a somewhat predictable speech dealing with constitutional reform, the West Lothian question, and the state of the devolved Administrations. At no point in his speech did he acknowledge that the devolved Administrations were the creation of a Labour Government. He raised the matter of a joint ministerial committee. The Government are well aware of his calls for the joint ministerial committee to meet, and will consider the proposal.
Mr. Salmond: The Scottish Parliament was established by the Scottish people in a referendum. As for the joint ministerial committee, that was a Labour Government proposal. It was a Labour Government measure, but has fallen into disuse since 2002. What could be the argument for that mechanism not to be working, instead of falling into disuse? Perhaps the Deputy Leader of the House could think about the argument and give me a little more comfort that, having read my speech in advance, she has considered the point closely enough to be able to give me an answer.
Helen Goodman: I must disappoint the right hon. Gentleman. He will appreciate that I will not be the person taking a decision on the meetings of the joint ministerial committee, but he should rest assured that it is under active consideration.
The hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) asked about the publication. It was available in the Vote Office on 11 July. There has been such a run on the document that we have had to reprint it.
I am keen that Members have the fullest possible chance to consider the Governments proposals in advance of the debate on Wednesday 25 July.
My right hon. and learned Friend was enthusiastic that all this should be brought to the
attention of all Members of the House; that is why she adopted that supererogatory approach.
Six months ago, Conservative Members were saying that we could not renew in Government, but we have shown that we can. For us, renewal is not simply an exercise in PR and spin. We are reforming the way that we do politics. As a first step in our wider constitutional reform programme, we are introducing a new process that strengthens parliamentary accountability and public openness. We are able to renew and reform because we understand the challenges of the modern world; that is why we have the groundbreaking and far-sighted Climate Change Bill, and why we are going to have a new scientific and ethical framework through the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill. We are able to renew and reform because our policies are rooted in the values of social justice; that is why we are addressing child maintenance and the needs of children in care. We are able to renew and reform because our policies are rooted in our communities. We understand peoples aspirations; that is why we are proposing flagship Bills on education and skills, housing and regeneration. I commend the publication and its contents to the House.
That, at the sitting on Thursday 26th July, the Speaker shall not adjourn the House until he has notified the Royal Assent to Acts agreed upon by both Houses. [ Mr. McAvoy]
Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD): It is my honour to present a petition on behalf of concerned users of Fort Augustus post office. It is signed by 700 peoplea substantial majority of the community in Fort Augustus and the neighbouring areas of Glenmoriston and other surrounding villages. It has the support not only of the local MSP, John Farquhar Munro, but of myself, and it is an honour to present it to the House.
To the House of Commons,
The petition of concerned users of Fort Augustus Post Office.
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