Government Amendments

Oral Answers to Questions — Leader of the House – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 20th March 2014.

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Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth 9:30 am, 20th March 2014

What steps he is taking to encourage his ministerial colleagues to make Government amendments to legislation in the House rather than in the House of Lords.

Photo of Tom Blenkinsop Tom Blenkinsop Opposition Whip (Commons)

What steps he is taking to encourage his ministerial colleagues to make Government amendments to legislation in the House of Commons rather than in the House of Lords.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

All will be well—[Interruption.] There are so many questions. [Interruption.] Inspiration is to hand; I thank the Leader of the House. It illustrates just how well we work together.

It is usual practice for the Government to make amendments, where possible, in the House of introduction. However, the Government are rightly expected to listen and respond to debates on Bills in both Houses of Parliament, and it is, of course, the core strength of our Parliament that any amendments made to Bills in the House of Lords must also be agreed by this House.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

That is a disappointing response from the Minister. The Government are increasingly bypassing this Chamber by introducing Bills in skeleton form and then pushing them through the House of Lords. The Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill left this Chamber 29 pages long, and ended up with more than 200 pages in the Lords. Other examples include the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, and so on. Will the Leader of the House commit to ensuring that that does not happen to future legislation?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I am disappointed with what the hon. Lady has to say. Clearly it is appropriate to ensure that Bills that start in the House of Commons are appropriately considered, and that those which start in the House of Lords are appropriately considered. It may be of interest to the hon. Lady to know that the number of amendments passed in each House are roughly of the same order.

Photo of Tom Blenkinsop Tom Blenkinsop Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Agricultural Wages Board was abolished last year by an amendment added to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill at the last minute in the House of Lords. The Bill was then scheduled so that there was no time to debate the move in the Commons. Does the Leader of the House agree that the Government are deliberately weakening the ability of the House of Commons to scrutinise the Executive, especially on an issue such as this, which undermines workers’ terms and conditions at one fell swoop?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I do not agree. One of the biggest changes the Government have made is to provide much more time, for instance on Report, to ensure that Bills are appropriately considered. If the hon. Gentleman goes through the history books, he will find that he has to go back a very long time under the previous Government to identify when this level of scrutiny was given on Report.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

I commend the Government on that and draw attention to the increasing use of draft legislation, on which this Government have done so much better than the last one. Opposition Members should remember the 2005 to 2010 Parliament; by comparison, this Government have been a paragon of virtue.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful comment. Clearly, this Government have put great emphasis on pre-legislative scrutiny, another area where we have performed outstandingly well in comparison with our predecessor.

Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

Does the Deputy Leader of the House recall, as I do, the Opposition’s many attempts in the House of Lords to muzzle time and again our tradition of a free press, for example in the Crime and Courts Bill? Does he agree that people who sit in glass houses should not necessarily throw stones?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I am very happy to support what the hon. Gentleman says. I am very proud of our record of ensuring that the right level of scrutiny is available for Bills and ensuring that the right number of Bills are going through the House. The Opposition often criticise the Government for what they allege is a light programme. We have a programme that is delivering the goods.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

This morning’s written ministerial statement on drafting guidance for Government Bills represents a missed opportunity to address the Government’s dismal record on drafting legislation. Will the Deputy Leader of the House tell us how he and the Leader of the House plan to ensure that their Government’s Bills are more thoroughly drafted and scrutinised, especially by this House?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I do not know, frankly, what the hon. Lady is referring to. This Government have put great emphasis on ensuring that Bills are effectively drafted. For example, we support the good law initiative, which ensures that Bills are clearer. We have done a considerable amount on explanatory notes to ensure that Members have a better understanding of Government amendments. I would appreciate it if the Opposition joined in that process, for example on the Deregulation Bill, to ensure that there is clarity on what their amendments are suggesting.