Pre-legislative Scrutiny

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:05 am on 6th January 2004.

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Photo of Mr Brian White Mr Brian White Labour, North East Milton Keynes 10:05 am, 6th January 2004

That is exactly the point. In this debate, we are in danger of forgetting that we are politicians, we belong to political parties and we have a representative democracy. We have a duty to make judgments, and the online process is not a substitute for such judgment making. In the Martin case, we need to judge the arguments for and against, rather than simply acknowledge the fact that a large body of people have made a point. It is a matter of interpretation, and we need to consider the underlying issues. The online process is an important tool, but it is not a substitute for doing our job—it helps us to do our job. It is helpful to know that there is a strong body of opinion about the issues raised by certain cases. It may be appropriate for a Select Committee to consider such issues, but that is a judgment we need to make in Parliament. The tool of online scrutiny should assist us in making such judgments, rather than substitute for them.

We do not make good use of all-party groups. The use of all-party groups in online consultation is important, as is support and training for Members—an issue which my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North did not touch on. I should like to see the introduction of online questions for Ministers. The opportunity for Ministers to respond regularly online, as they do in Parliament, would be a useful innovation. They would not necessarily answer questions online as frequently as they do in Parliament, but there is a role for such questioning.

Such scrutiny is not just a tool for the Government. Many local councils are way ahead of us in their use of online consultation and scrutiny. We are considering draft Bills and the introduction of legislation, but we should remember that it is not just the Government who introduce draft legislation. The Public Administration Committee yesterday proposed a draft civil service Bill. Ironically, I was the only Committee member to oppose that Bill, but the fact that the Committee proposed such a Bill is a useful way of moving the debate forward.

There are also lessons to be learned from other countries, and I refer Members to early-day motion 322. Recently, in Canada, a decision was made to open up the way in which parliamentarians interact with the Government, for example in free votes and online forums. In this country, we are starting to deal with those issues, which were pioneered in Canada. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider its experience to see whether anything from its Westminster-type Parliament is relevant to our democracy. I welcome our debate, and several useful things have come out of it. It is important that we consider the online scrutiny as part of an ongoing process rather than as a substitute for the reason why we are here, which is to represent our constituents.