Ex-Cabinet minister Lilley introduces bill to strengthen Parliament

June 19, 2009 at 3:05 pm Leave a comment

peterlilley

A former Cabinet minister under John Major has introduced a private member’s bill that would prevent the government from restricting the time available to debate legislation.

Peter Lilley accused the current administration of organising Parliament to sit for fewer days this year than in any year since 1945, then using powers “once reserved for exceptional cases, to restrict the time available for debate on every bill.”

“As a result, large swathes of legislation leave this place without ever having been scrutinised at all,” he told MPs.

Mr Lilley’s Programming of Bills (Suspension) “provides for the suspension or restriction of programming of Bills when the House of Commons is scheduled to meet for fewer than a prescribed number of days in any specified period; and for connected purposes.”

It will be given its Second Reading on Friday 3 July.

Mr Lilley set out the merits of his proposal using the ten minute rule.

“All too many Bills leave this House with sizeable chunks never debated in Committee and with grotesquely inadequate consideration by the whole House on Report,” he said.

“In the case of three quarters of Bills last year, this Chamber was not allowed to debate all the groups of amendments selected for debate by the Speaker.

“For example, the Government deliberately restricted the time for debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill so that dozens of new clauses were not debated; on the Counter-Terrorism Bill Members had only three hours to discuss 16 new clauses and 60 amendments covering crucial issues such as post-charge questioning and control orders; and on the Climate Change Bill we were not allowed to debate the crucial amendment increasing the carbon reduction target from 60 to 80 per cent., which doubled the Bill’s cost and which many supporters felt did not go far enough.

“Moreover, the time saved on debating primary legislation has not been used to scrutinise secondary legislation, which increasingly accounts for the substance of our laws.

“The proportion of statutory instruments requiring the affirmative procedure considered by the House has fallen from one third in the last three years of the Major Government to just 6 per cent. now and, of the thousands of statutory instruments subject to the negative procedure, the number put to the vote in the Chamber declined from one in 200 under the previous Government—that figure is bad enough—to only one in 1,000 now.

“In the present climate, people assume that that proves that Members of Parliament are lazy as well as greedy.

“Far from being lazy, most MPs are eager to scrutinise legislation, to hold Ministers to account and to debate the Opposition’s policies too—we would willingly do so for longer.

“It is Ministers, not Back Benchers, who prefer to send Parliament away for as long as possible, because all Governments, not just this one, find it is disagreeable to be scrutinised, criticised and held to account.”

Mr Lilley said he expected support from Labour MPs as they will be in opposition “before too long.”

“By contrast, some of my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench may have their doubts. Scrutiny is uncomfortable. The first instinct of every Whip is to curtail it if they cannot prevent it entirely.

“But scrutiny is good for good government.

“Governments with good policies and confidence in those policies—and with the humility to respond positively to constructive criticism of them—have nothing to fear and much to gain from full and thorough scrutiny in this place.

“I ask leave to bring in this Bill and set Parliament free to do its job.”

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