Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee on 17th April 2007.

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[Mr. Mike Weir in the Chair]

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry) 10:30 am, 17th April 2007

I remind the Committee that the Bill has a money resolution and a Ways and Means resolution connected with it. Copies are available in the Room. I also remind hon. Members that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a rule, my co-Chairman and I do not intend to call starred amendments. Please would all Committee members ensure that mobile phones, pagers and so on are turned off or in silent mode during Committee meetings. Although it is a bit cooler than it has been, hon. Members may remove their jackets if they wish todo so.

First, we come to the programme motion, which may be debated for up to half an hour.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney Minister of State (Trade & Investment), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister of State (Trade & Investment), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

I beg to move

That—

(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday 17 April) meet—

(a) at 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 17 April;

(b) at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 19 April;

(c) at 10.30 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. on Tuesday 24 April;

(d) at 9.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 26 April;

(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Clause 1; Schedule 1; Clauses 2 to 25; Schedule 2; Clauses 26 to 30; Schedule 3; Clauses 31 to 35; Schedule 4; Clauses 36 to 45; Schedule 5; Clauses 46 to 53; Schedule 6; Clauses 54 to 67; Schedules 7 and 8; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(3) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 p.m. on Thursday 26 April.

This is the first time that I have led on a Bill under your chairmanship, Mr. Weir.

I hope that both the Bill and my performance will live up to expectations. The Under-Secretary of State and I intend to deal with matters effectively. We will give the fullest answers that we can to probing amendments, and will treat on their merits amendments that have been tabled in order to make legitimate changes to the Bill. I give Committee members a commitment that if issues arise on which they require me to provide more detailed information in writing, I shall try to provide such information before the next sitting in order to ensure continuity. Finally, the Committee will know that when this Bill was considered in the House of Lords, we accepted reasonable amendments and those improved it in a number of ways.

May I take this opportunity, Mr. Weir, to ask you on behalf of the Committee to send our condolences to the families and friends of the 32 people killed yesterday at the university in Virginia by a gunman  who then turned his gun on himself? The thoughts of all of us are with the bereaved families and those who have been injured in that tragedy. If the Committee agrees, later today I shall write on its behalf to the United States ambassador, Robert Holmes Tuttle, to express its sympathy and send its condolences to those affected.

The timings for this Bill were agreed at a short meeting yesterday. We had a good debate on Second Reading, and I think that we know the general and specific issues that are likely to arise from amendments and in debate.

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Shadow Minister (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

May I add my greetings to you, Mr. Weir? Like the Minister, I do not think that I have been guided through a Bill by you, and I hope that you will be able to treat us all with firmness and fairness. I also welcome the Ministers. I do not know whether we have reached such a state of lawlessness that they need to travel in pairs, but it is nice to see them both and I look forward to debating with them.

Before I touch on the motion, may I endorse what the Minister said about the dreadful shootings in Virginia? I visited the town three years ago and have been on that campus, so I was particularly shocked.

The Bill has, as the Minister said, already been discussed in another place. Therefore, it has already received some important amendments, a number of which were tabled by my noble Friends. I hope that, as the Minister implied, that was a sign that we will take a cross-party approach to the scrutiny process. That process is vital to good legislation, and the work of a Committee such as this—the careful consideration of the words, phrases and meanings of our laws—is essential. That is why we on the Opposition Benches have often opposed the routinely heavy-handed programming of our deliberations by the current Government. I am sad to say that time and again we have faced aggressive timetabling and guillotines. The result of that is that clauses and schedules that need amending, correcting or improving often go unconsidered and undebated.

That is a problem not just because of what it means for the regard that people have for the House but because what we do here affects every constituent and citizen in the land. We must therefore get legislation right. That is why we are pleased to see that, on this occasion, the Government have been willing to resist the temptation to restrain our deliberations. We hope to contribute to them in a positive and thoughtful manner, and hopefully at the end of the process the Bill will be better than it is today.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I now call the Minister to move the motion to report written evidence. This is a formality whereby any written evidence that the Committee accepts enjoys the benefit of parliamentary privilege.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, subject to the discretion of the Chairman, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—[Mr. McCartney.]

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Shadow Minister (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

I simply wish to record one or two thoughts on the motion. I do not oppose the principle of it, which is entirely right. It is a proposal that has been made by the House. However, I wonder whether  other members of the Committee find the way in which it has been implemented to date helpful. I received the papers that we will consider only this morning. There are three or four essential papers, including one from BOC Gases. There is one from the Consumers Association, with which I happen to have been in conversation previously, so I was aware of that paper. I also note that there are papers from the Law Society of Scotland and Citizens Advice.

Those papers are all helpful and important, and I do not oppose the principle that underlies the new procedure, but I wonder whether the way in which it operates is helpful, particularly in relation to this Bill. I have open mind: other Members might say that it has been extremely helpful, which will be fine. The danger is that a lot of paper is produced, and although individual Members might have the opportunity to raise one particular point or perhaps ask a question, if the procedure is to work properly it is important for the papers to come at least a week before the Committee begins so that Members have time to consider their arguments.

I do not wish to oppose the motion, but I should like to put on record the fact that, while the principle is good, it is perhaps not working as well as it might.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney Minister of State (Trade & Investment), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister of State (Trade & Investment), Foreign & Commonwealth Office

All I can say is that as the hon. Gentleman knows, I will continue to try to ensure that information is provided to hon. Members in an adequate and non-partisan way. As he said, the system is new and is very different from when I was on the Back Benches and the Front-Bench spokesman forthe Opposition would get absolutely nothing from the Government—neither amendments, sympathy nor a scrap of paper on how to deal with things. We want to ensure that the system works in a practical way, and I take on board what the hon. Gentleman said.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I note to the Committee that I understand that the Scrutiny Unit is responsible for distributing the papers, and that they are distributed as soon as they are received. The Minister is not responsible for the fact that the papers have been received just this morning.

Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Shadow Minister (Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform)

Thank you, Mr. Weir. Perhaps it would be helpful if the concerns that I have raised were fed back to the Scrutiny Unit so that, as the process develops, it can improve for future Bills.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

I will certainly feed that back, but it depends on when papers are received. They can be distributed only once received.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry)

Copies of any memorandums that the Committee receives will be made available in the Committee Room.