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Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has told the House that he is not prepared to give way, so hon. Members should not press him to do so.

Mr. Tyler : You will be glad to hear, Madam Speaker, that I am reaching my conclusion.

In 1780, the House passed a motion that

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"The power of the Crown has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished."

If we mean business about parliamentary reform, we cannot simply deal with the symptoms--rowdy irrelevance at Question Time or impotent inquiries by Select Committees, for example. We must identify the root causes--the disease itself. We could do worse than start by agreeing that the power of the party has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished.

4.3 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : I beg to move, to leave out from "House"to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof :

congratulates the Government for its initiative in setting up the Select Committee on Sittings of the House (the Jopling Committee) ; supports the objectives of making agreed improvements in the House's hours of sittings and working methods ; and welcomes the Prime Minister's recent statement reaffirming the Government's commitment to progress on parliamentary reform.

I was surprised when the Liberal Democrats initially tabled this subject for discussion last Thursday because the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) was well aware that discussions were proceeding --I hope also to have discussions with him--about reforming the procedures of the House. Therefore, it is surprising that this subject should be chosen for debate today. I was further puzzled when I discovered that the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), rather than the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, was to lead the debate on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. My high regard for the judgment of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire was momentarily increased still further in the early part of the speech of the hon. Member for North Cornwall, when I noticed that the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire had left the Chamber, which seemed to me the most appropriate comment, although I realise that he came back. None of my puzzlement has been diminished by listening to the speech

Madam Speaker : Order. I think I ought to correct the right hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) came to the Chair to have a word with me at that time.

Mr. Newton : In that case, I must straightforwardly apologise for misrepresenting the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire. I realised that he had left his place. I obviously made a mistake in assuming that he had left the Chamber, but, having listened to the hon. Member for North Cornwall, I think that he would have been better off out of the Chamber had he done so.

Mr. Winnick : I am grateful to the Leader of the House for showing me the courtesy that, unfortunately, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who moved the motion, did not wish to show to others. Is not it an odd state of affairs when the hon. Gentleman who moved the motion is a Member who was in the House for about six months and then out for 18 years ? If it is such a terrible place, why did he spend so many years trying to get back here ?

Although I share many of the criticisms that the hon. Member for North Cornwall made of Government action--obviously I would do that--was not the essence of much of what he said that we should take the politics out of

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politics ? This is a place for political warfare. If we did not have political warfare in a Parliament such as ours, which we should cherish, it would be out on the streets. There is nothing wrong with clashes. Much of what we heard--I think that the Leader of the House will agree--was pious nonsense.

Mr. Newton : I usually try to be emollient, but for once I find myself greatly in agreement with the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). He asked a pertinent question of the hon. Member for North Cornwall to which, no doubt, we shall in due course receive an answer--why he was so keen to get back in here if he thinks so little of the place. On the other hand, our track record in obtaining from the Liberal Democrats answers to any question is not good that may remain another one that hangs in the air.

It was, frankly--as I think will have been widely felt on both sides of the House--a pretty extraordinary performance. The hon. Member for North Cornwall made a speech in which, although I do not remember his exact words, he deplored the absence of proper debate in the House and then persistently refused intervention after

intervention--interventions being one of the ways in which we conduct debate in the House, sometimes quite productively. He spoke of people evading issues ; I have never heard a speech that evaded as many issues as his. There was only one thing in his remarks with which I totally agreed and I took a note of the sentence because it harnessed so much agreement in my mind. He said :

"I have only a limited number of things to say".

He could certainly say that again. He said them at some length and, in my judgment at least, his speech was little more than a series of cheap debating points.

In the remaining few minutes of a speech that started by expressing worry about Parliament's bad reputation, the hon. Member for North Cornwall did nothing to enhance the reputation of Parliament.

Mr. Burns : While my right hon. Friend is on the subject of enhancing the reputation of Parliament, did he notice that, during the speech of the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) in which he criticised hon. Members of, I suspect, all parties in the Chamber for being egged on by the media, a phenomenon occurred that occurs only when Liberal Democrats make speeches ? The Liberal Democrats all bunched behind one other on Benches belonging to the Labour party so as to achieve the "doughnut" effect for television. In other debates, when they are not taking part, they resume their normal Bench. They do that simply to get themselves on television and to give an impression that they are doing more work than they usually do.

Mr. Newton : I shall not follow my hon. Friend down that path, but no doubt his observations will have been noted in these and other quarters.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) : Did my right hon. Friend notice that the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) condemned what he alleged to be typical answers from Ministers--answers such as "I will write to the hon. Gentleman" ? The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) is the only Liberal Member who answers questions, and he gave precisely that answer to a question from me today.

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Mr. Newton : The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) speaks for the House of Commons Commission. As I am a member of the Commission, I hesitate to attack him in that role. I see that he has had the grace to smile, in his usual engaging way, at the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold). Let me return to what I consider to be the main issues in the minds of hon. Members on both sides of the House, who will no doubt wish to contribute to the debate. In my present capacity as Leader of the House, I am more than happy to engage in debates on procedure whenever the House wishes. Nevertheless--as I suggested in commenting on the existence of today's debate--I hope that I shall not be thought churlish if I express some surprise at its timing. As the House well knows, I am in the middle of discussions with the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) and others, seeking to make progress on procedural reform.

Those talks are taking place in an extremely constructive way, but--as with any other negotiation or series of talks--it would be neither practicable nor desirable to attempt to give a blow-by-blow account in the middle of them. I hope that the House will understand that at this stage I can only set out our principal objectives, and state--I mean this quite straightforwardly--that I shall be happy to listen to any further thoughts that are expressed today. I very much hope that that will give further impetus to the progress that hon. Members on both sides of the House want.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : The Leader of the House used the term "procedural change". Is he in a position to say when we can expect changes to the Standing Orders governing Scottish business ? I am given to understand that discussions have taken place over many months, but have been halted.

Mr. Newton : I shall mention that later, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we hope that the new arrangements will be in place in time for the next Session of Parliament.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East) : The right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to suggest that he would accept whatever views were offered for consideration. May I bring up a very important aspect of what goes on in the House, which was not mentioned in that interesting schoolboy essay by the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) and has not so far been mentioned in the disconnected comments of the Leader of the House ?

One of the most malign influences on how the public see the House of Commons has resulted from the introduction of those damned objects, the television cameras. It has led to the bad conduct of hon. Members--worse conduct than normal--and the bad conduct of business in the House. The cameras are frequently abused by the Government Front Bench, and some of the slimier Members, to get points of view across to the public which are misleading and are made only because the cameras are on them.

Mr. Newton : The hon. Gentleman has made his views known over a long period. I have to say that I do not agree with him about the adverse effect on the procedures of the House--or, indeed, about the view that the public take of the introduction of television cameras. My personal view

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--it can be no more than a personal view--is that it has significantly enhanced interest in what goes in this place, and therefore enhanced the centrality of Parliament to the British political process. That effect should be welcomed. I do not say that there have been no undesirable side-effects, but overall I think that the move has been beneficial.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that--contrary to what has just been said by my dear, beloved hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds)--it is not true that behaviour in this place has deteriorated since the advent of television cameras ? In fact it has improved, as has the dress of many hon. Members. If the cameras were withdrawn, would there not be a public outcry ?

Mr. Newton : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's latter point is true. As it happens, I also agreed with his first point ; it is simply that I did not wish to pick a dispute with the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) on each and every one of his points. However, I made it quite clear that I did not agree with him.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury) : Will my right hon. Friend give way ?

Mr. Newton : I will, but from the large number of hon. Members present I judge that many would like to take part in the debate. I have said that, in present circumstances, I am not in a position to make a major, substantive statement about any changes and I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House. While I am ready, as ever, to give way to interventions, it will significantly prolong my speech if I continue to do so.

Mr. Clifton-Brown : My right hon. Friend referred to the public's interest in this place. They must find many of our proceedings somewhat arcane. Were we to timetable a greater proportion of our business, not only would they have a greater understand of what is happening but they would have greater opportunity to come to hear what we say, both in the Chamber and in Committee.

Mr. Newton : My hon. Friend made that same point crisply and effectively during questions to the Lord President of the Council a little earlier today. I understand that that aim--expressed, in one way, in the Jopling report--would be supported by many hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Before I make what I intend to be fairly brief comments, I want to inform the House of the regret expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, that, because of the short notice of the debate and his long-standing commitment in an equally important parliamentary capacity, he cannot be present today. He wanted me to pass on his regrets, which he expressed both to me and to the hon. Member for North Cornwall.

The starting point of our discussion is the report known in the shorthand of the trade as the Jopling report--the report of the Select Committee on Sittings of the House, which was chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), who may be seeking to catch your eye, Madam Speaker. As on earlier occasions, I pay tribute not only to him but to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk,

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South (Mr. MacGregor), now the Secretary of State for Transport. His appreciation of the need for reform of our pattern of sittings led to the setting up of the Committee.

When the House last debated the matter, which was some time ago, I made it clear that the Government would welcome the more civilised, more certain hours of sitting that the Committee recommended, provided that that could be done in a way that ensured that the elected Government of the day could get their legislative programme and other essential business through in a reasonable fashion. That remains our position. Since then, my goal has been a package of measures that strikes a fair balance between the interests of Government, the interests of the Opposition and, of course, the interests of the House as a whole.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : Before the Government reach a conclusion on these matters--especially on the handling of legislation--will the right hon. Gentleman deal specifically with the arguments deployed by the all-party Hansard Society committee on the legislative process, chaired by Lord Rippon, which demonstrated authoritatively how unsatisfactory our processes are for the public in producing good quality legislation ? That is due not in small measure to the amount of time wasting in dealing with legislation, to which my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) referred.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also deal specifically with the question raised by Sir Thomas Bingham, the Master of the Rolls, in his Denning lecture, about the inadequate amount of time being given by Parliament and the Government to the recommendations of the Law Commission, fewer and fewer of which are being acted upon by the House ? Instead, they are lying collecting dust on the shelves, not because they are not worthy, but because the Government cannot find the time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse) : Order. This is a very long intervention.

Mr. Newton : I have two brief observations to make on that intervention. First, there is quite an amount in the report of the Hansard Society for Parliamentary Government--although I accept that it goes wider- -which interrelates with the proposals that my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale put forward in his report on the way in which the House approaches legislation and the discussion of legislation. Secondly, for what the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland shorthanded as Law Commission Bills or law reform Bills, procedures already exist in both Houses of Parliament. In this House, there is the provision, for example, for some legislation to go to Second Reading Committees, which are designed to facilitate the passage of legislation when it is non- controversial. I better openly say that it was more difficult to operate those procedures during the period when the usual channels were not operating. I am hopeful that, now we are back to a more normal pattern of relationships between the two Front Benches, some of those difficulties may ease.

The overall objective that we all have was well put by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in a press conference that he held a week ago today, when he said :

"I hope we can find ways of enabling the Commons to do its business in more sensible ways, in more sensible hours without either unacceptably reducing the government's capacity to carry its programme, or reducing the Opposition's flexibility in deploying and pressing its case against government legislation. I

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believe that this effort has very strong support on both sides of the House and very strong support outside the House from millions of people who follow our proceedings. The government is keen to make progress on this front, if the Opposition are equally keen", I see no reason to doubt that they are. He continued :

"I hope we should be able to map the way forward before the summer recess."

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way ?

Mr. Newton : Yes, I shall, but I must cease to give way quite so frequently if other hon. Members are to have a chance to speak.

Mr. Flynn : In support of that statement by the Prime Minister, I gave him 24 hours notice last week of a question that I asked in an entirely non-combative way. The answer that I received was described in The Times editorial as being a typical civil service briefing with a party- political jibe in the tail. If the Prime Minister is failing to rise to his own challenge, why should the House take him seriously ?

Mr. Newton : Frankly, that is a cheap debating point rivalling the comments that we heard from the hon. Member for North Cornwall. Of course I was aware of, and had seen, the hon. Gentleman's letter to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister setting out his question. I heard the reply. I thought that it was a properly considered reply and that my right hon. Friend responded in the way in which the hon. Gentleman had made possible and I cleave to that view.

In the last debate on the report of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, he made a comment with which I very much agree. He said :

"when considering altering parliamentary procedure, it is important to seek to do it on the basis of consensus."--[ Official Report , 2 March 1992 ; Vol. 205, c. 74.]

That is very much the spirit in which I am conducting my current discussions and in which they are being conducted in other quarters as well. Since the usual channels have resumed, we have made good progress towards that objective and I hope that I shall also be able to have constructive discussions with the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire. Our aim, as I have said, is to be able to map the way forward before the summer recess and I shall give further indications on what we may be able to achieve as soon as I am able. However, I should like to underline something that I said either in response to an intervention or in response to one of the questions at Lord President's questions a few moments ago. I hope that the House will not underestimate the extent to which considerable progress has been made towards some of the objectives in the Jopling report in the management of this Session's business. Excluding Consolidated Fund debates, which are, of course, effectively private Members' time, we have sat after midnight on only 17 occasions out of 116. The longest sitting lasted until 3.22 am and only one other sitting went beyond 3 am. I think that the hon. Member for North Cornwall will agree, given his previous experience in this place, that the almost routine all- night marathons of the 1970s and the early part of the 1980s have effectively

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become things of the past. We sit to those hours, or all night, far less frequently than was the case when I became a Member 20 years ago.

We have tried to arrange less contentious business--this is much in line with one of the Jopling recommendations--for Thursday evenings to facilitate the passage back to their constituencies of Members from further afield who wish to be in their constituencies on Friday. I have sought to give Members as much notice as possible of the dates of recesses.

Mr. Tony Banks : What about the summer recess ?

Several hon. Members : Hear, hear.

Mr. Newton : I understand the general interest in the summer recess. I am not in a position to be as forthcoming as I should like about that. I am conscious that on a couple of occasions I have given so much advance notice of the dates of other recesses that they have been overlooked and complaints have been made, when in fact the dates have been announced long since. On those occasions, some hon. Members were still unaware of the dates. We have, however, made some progress.

In short, even within the present procedural rules, an approach to business management has been taken that has represented a deliberate wish to be responsive to the wishes of the House. That approach has already enabled us to make useful progress towards meeting those wishes. In doing so--I think that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East will agree with me--we have created a useful foundation on which we may be able to make further progress, which is precisely what we are seeking to do.

Given the time that has been taken by interventions, I shall not spend a great deal of time commenting on other recent reforms. I hope, however, that the House will not underestimate them. I have in mind the development of the European Standing Committees, which has helped to relieve the pressure of business on the Floor of the House. The volume of private business has been substantially reduced by the passage of the Transport and Works Act 1992.

In this Parliament, the system of departmental Select Committees--it has been referred to already, but the extent to which Committees have improved the capacity of the House to hold the Executive to account has perhaps not been acknowledged--has been consolidated and extended. It is with some considerable pleasure that I find myself the Leader of the House who has extended the Select Committee system to Northern Ireland affairs and has achieved the establishment, after a long period of controversy, of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : I pay tribute to the efforts that the Leader of the House has made. Will he be prepared to allow both the European Standing Committees and the Select Committees to have greater rights so that they can move amendments to the legislation that they are monitoring and can demand that it be fully debated on the Floor of the House ?

Mr. Newton : It is always open to Committees to make proposals about debates on the Floor of the House. We always consider such proposals with great care.

I promised the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) that I would respond to his

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intervention and I shall do so before I resume my place. There are one or two further procedural developments that I hope to bring before the House in the near future.

In February, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland published the Government's proposals for improvements in the way in which we handle Scottish business. The aim, as I think I explained earlier--my right hon. Friend and I hope to bring forward the proposals shortly--is to give Scottish Members additional opportunities to raise Scottish concerns without in any way diminishing their rights to debate Scottish issues on the Floor of the House.

Under the proposals, the Scottish Grand Committee will be able to deal with a wide range of business, including the Second Reading of Bills, questions to Scottish Office Ministers, a new procedure for short debates, ministerial statements and general debates on topics chosen by the Government, the Official Opposition or by the minority parties. We envisage that the Scottish Grand Committee will hold some of its meetings in Scotland, not only in Edinburgh but in other parts of that country, provided that the necessary facilities are available. As I have said, it is our intention that those reforms should take effect at the beginning of the next Session.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : Has any more thought been given to the critical question whether the head of the Crown Office, the Lord Advocate, can be subjected to direct questioning by Members of this House ? For that matter, has any more thought been given to whether the Minister of State, Scottish Office, who plays a very active, critical and controversial part in the affairs of Scotland, could also be subject to questioning by Members of the House of Commons ?

Mr. Newton : As I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge, he raised those matters in a point of order towards the end of last week. I hope that he will not mind my saying that he also spoke to me informally afterwards about his concerns, and I undertook to look further into the points that he had raised. I will do that, but I hope that he will understand that I cannot respond further across the Dispatch Box this afternoon.

There is really only one other point to which I want to refer, which may introduce slightly more controversy and on which some hon. Members may wish to comment. With regard to procedural reform or change, we have proposals for a new procedure for dealing with deregulation orders once the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill has been enacted.

The House has already debated the Procedure Committee's valuable report on that subject. I am not quite sure whether I understood the references of the hon. Member for North Cornwall to that point, because the Government have accepted virtually all the Procedure Committee's recommendations in that area, as the Chairman of that Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton very fairly acknowledged.

The procedure will involve--this point relates to a number of strands in the debate--widespread public consultation before a proposal is brought forward and scrutiny by an all-party Select Committee with powers to take evidence from witnesses and to report its conclusions to the House. That will ensure that some useful but non-contentious deregulation measures can be enacted with full public and parliamentary scrutiny, but without

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adding still further to the pressure on the Floor of the House which is one of the things that so many hon. Members wish to see reduced.

I realise that, with respect to the main issue on people's minds, I have been able to do little more this afternoon than to say that I continue to listen against a background of continuing discussion. However, I look forward to the rest of the debate and to the comments that others will make. I hope that this debate will give a further impetus to the reform which I am sure is widely supported on both sides of the House.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Before I call the next speaker, may I say that there is a great deal of interest in the debate, but only about two hours before the winding-up speeches must start. I appeal for short speeches.

4.32 pm

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East) : I will certainly try to be brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

In opening the debate, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) suggested a reform which does not seem to have occurred to the Jopling Committee. The hon. Gentleman suggested that we could enhance our public reputation by redesigning the building. He suggested that we should sit around in a semicircle, rather than in this adversarial setting, perhaps on bean bags-- [Interruption.] That would enable me to sit beside the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) and I would like that very much. However, it would make no difference to the political differences between us.

The hon. Member for North Cornwall went on to describe his parliamentary colleagues as lazy, badly behaved and self-indulgent. I do not have the hon. Gentleman's experience of the Liberal Democratic parliamentary group, but there is sufficient evidence to suggest that he may be on to something.

Mr. Tyler : I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I want to put on record the fact that I was talking about the view of the public as displayed by a MORI public opinion poll. It was not my view.

Mr. Brown : I am perfectly willing to accept from the hon. Gentleman that that is the public's view of the Liberal Democratic parliamentary group and it is fair to say that the recent election results rather bear that out.

Not unusually for the Liberal Democrats, the motion confuses two different issues right at the beginning and then carries on in a similar muddled vein. It is true that the Government are unpopular. However, the Liberal Democratic motion confuses that with public contempt for the institution of Parliament. Dissatisfaction with the Executive and the Executive's decisions is not the same as disenchantment with parliamentary democracy. There is no widespread demand in this country for another form of government--not communism, not government by workers' soviet, not military rule, not fascist dictatorship, not even a change in the election system to give the Liberal Democrats a permanent veto over the decisions of Conservative or Labour Governments.

The motion goes on to criticise the organisation and procedures of the House. Of course, there is a very strong case for reform, although it is not made out in the motion, which does not contain a single constructive suggestion. In

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fact, the Jopling report contains a number of constructive suggestions and discussions are taking place in the normal way with a view to making progress on the Jopling recommendations and other ideas that sit logically alongside them. I am not in a position today to state the view of the parliamentary Labour party ; nor is it right that I should.

Mr. Tony Banks : I take my hon. Friend back slightly to the layout of the Chamber. Is it not a fact that if 650 people were chosen at random-- indeed, looking around the Chamber, perhaps they were--and put in this place, because of the confrontational nature of the layout, they would behave in precisely the same way as hon. Members behave during Prime Minister's Question Time ? Would not it be appropriate to look at the layout of the Chamber and do something about the appalling lack of facilities for Members ? Why cannot we have individual desks so that we could speak from them, rather than stand in this rudimentary, confrontational Chamber which exacerbates feelings in this place ?

Mr. Brown : I have not given great thought to the positioning of furniture in the building. I am a bit of a traditionalist ; I rather like the Chamber as it is. Just about the only chance of securing a parliamentary majority for the Liberal Democrats would be if hon. Members were chosen entirely at random. I do not see any other prospect of their gaining very much success.

Before making further progress, it is absolutely right to thank the Lord President of the Council for the efficient and constructive way in which he is undertaking the task of reform. In particular, I thank him for his courtesy in the discussions on the detail of the proposals. I hope that we will have something of substance to put in front of the House soon and then we will be in a position to hear the views of the House. Not all those matters are adversarial between the parties ; indeed, some are neutral. It is a matter of preference for the House rather than party political advantage.

It is perfectly reasonable, for example, for Members of Parliament to want some certainty in allocating time for constituency business and other work that cannot be done in the House itself. It is also perfectly reasonable that Members of Parliament should like as much notice of business as can reasonably be provided. It also seems to me to be perfectly possible to bring about evolutionary change in the way in which we carry out our business in the House. Such change should be brought about by consensus.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) : Is not my hon. Friend falling into the chasm of accepting the basic premise which operates in this place : that the Executive controls the timetable of Parliament ? I think that that is wrong. The debate is about fundamental reform whereby control of the business of this place is repatriated to hon. Members rather than left with the Executive. It should be left to a Select Committee of distinguished parliamentarians who are not members of the Government. That is the basis of reform and many good things could flow from it.

Mr. Brown : I do not want to become involved in the details of the discussion, because they are not complete and there are matters still to be resolved between us before we

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put proposals to other colleagues. However, there is absolutely no chance whatsoever of my falling into a parliamentary chasm, because I always send somebody from the Whips Office to walk in front of me. Change should be by consensus. It should not, as the Leader of the House has confirmed, disturb the existing balance between the rights of the Executive and the rights of the House--between Government and Opposition. The Liberal Democrat demand for immediate action goes very close to being a demand for the Executive to impose their version of change and reform on the House, whether hon. Members like it or not. That would be foolish. We should proceed by consensus and not by encouraging the Executive to impose their view on us. Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) rose

Mr. Brown : I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, whom I am pleased to see taking part in the debate.

Mr. Kirkwood : I understand that we need to proceed by consensus and that no one can impose solutions over people's heads, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that there will come a time when unanimity will not be possible, particularly among Labour Back Benchers, and that he will then have to use his best offices to persuade them of the need to change, even it means that some of them will be disappointed ?

Mr. Brown : I made it overwhelmingly clear that I support the case for reform and for consulting other people, among whom I would include the hon. Gentleman. We must proceed by consensus among the different political parties. People will always disagree on some points, but we shall have to find a way of resolving them. That should not strike any politician as being unusual or impossible to achieve. The Government and the parliamentary Labour party want to proceed in a way that is reasonable and sensible, probably not least because both see the realistic prospect of our roles being reversed, which is more than one can say about the Liberal Democrats. I should like to put in a word for the idea of non-adversarial examination of technical legislation : the annual Finance Bill, omnibus law reform, home affairs measures--perhaps building on the work of the Law Commission--and detailed Department of the Environment legislation. The idea, which has been canvassed before, is that technical parts of, for example, the Finance Bill could be separated from the rest of the Bill. Detailed measures could be dealt with under a separate Taxes Management Bill, which could be scrutinised in the same way as we scrutinise European legislation. It would require a larger gap between Second Reading and Committee stage, and as a quid pro quo the Bill would have to be passed on a tighter and, let me say it now, agreed timetable.

I accept that that is not the Government's view. Such a policy, however, would improve parliamentary scrutiny, enable Members of Parliament other than Ministers to hear expert opinion and enhance our standing with specialists who would like to explain their position to us.

I am not suggesting such a procedure for matters that are politically contentious between the two parties. The proposal would deal with technical matters, on which any reasonable person would like to hear the views of specialists before coming to a final conclusion.

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