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Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): I cycle as well, but the hon. Gentleman cannot expect everything to be organised for his own convenience. If he cannot take one or two bumps, he should not be in the job.

Mr. Bayley: The hon. Gentleman may enjoy the feeling of a bumpy saddle beneath him when he cycles in. [Hon. Members: "He is a public school boy."] He is indeed. My point is simply that when the House spends money on its own infrastructure, it costs no more to get it right than to get it wrong. It costs no more to serve the needs of pedestrians and cyclists as well as those of motorists. It simply involves thinking through the problem.

What this House desperately needs is a chief executive to manage the place efficiently, so that we do not need to spend months bringing about minor changes such as cycle paths. It took me, as a new Member, three months to find out which Committee was responsible for the note-taking in the Gallery problem, and a further three months for the House to decide that, for an experimental period, it would see whether our parliamentary democracy was robust enough to allow the public to take notes in the Gallery. That is not good enough. If we want change, we need a mechanism that allows the House to achieve it quickly.

11.9 pm

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I am pleased to be able to make a brief contribution, and I have been interested to hear the observations that have been made about how the House should be reformed.

I start from the premise that the House is here to represent democracy, and that any modernisation should lead to better legislation. I do not start from the premise that the House is here for the convenience of Members of Parliament, and I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree with me on that point. I say that because I am--I hope--privileged to have been appointed to the Select Committee as one of four representatives of the Conservative party.

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The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), as always, made an entertaining speech and he mentioned certain matters that he considered important. I believe he said that he had been in opposition for 18 years. There are some who say to me, "Mr. Winterton, you have been in the House for nearly 26 years and you have been in opposition for all that time."

I think that the precedents and procedures of the House have been established over the years for a good purpose, and on the basis of experience. Although I want our procedures to be improved and our structures modernised, I want that to happen so that we can achieve more for our constituents, improve democratic accountability and ensure that the legislation that is put on the statute book is better considered by Members of all parties.

I appreciate the concern expressed by the hon. Member for City of York (Mr. Bayley) for his constituents. His constituency is probably as far from London as my constituency of Macclesfield, but I encourage my constituents to visit the House and I encourage schools and other organisations in my constituency to send parties here. Over nearly 26 years, many thousands of my constituents have come here, and apart from one or two criticisms of the way in which we behave at Prime Minister's Question Time there has been very little criticism of the House; it is held in great respect, and the reasons for our structures are appreciated.

I believe, however, that much of the legislation that comes before the House should be considered by a specialist Standing Committee or, when that is inappropriate, by a Select Committee. I have been privileged to serve on Select Committees for nearly 18 years, and for a limited time--until my own party prevented my being reappointed--I chaired the Health Committee. Perhaps I did too good a job on behalf of the people of this country and the House in doing the job that Select Committees are there to do: holding the Government of the day--the Executive of the day--to account. Once the House appoints a Member in that way, whether Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Labour, that Member is there as a servant of the House, not of his or her political party. I believe fervently in that tradition. In my view, the Select Committees of the House represent the most effective way of holding the Executive of the day--now the Labour party, and until a little while ago, the Conservative party--to account.

Much of the legislation that comes before the House--often hastily drafted and often, sadly, as we have experienced in recent hours, considered under a guillotine--would be much easier to consider if it had been considered either by a Select Committee, if it concerned a particular Department of State, or by a Special Standing Committee, which could take evidence and produce papers which could then be published.

One of the unsatisfactory features of Standing Committees is that many organisations, many interest groups in Britain, send members of Standing Committees important documents that are referred to but which cannot be published as part of the Committee's report. That is wrong.

That is one of the areas in which we can do a great deal to help the House pass well considered, well detailed and well thought out legislation. We need the greater use of Special Standing Committees. In addition, Select Committees should consider legislation that falls within the remit of a particular Department of State.

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The House has an exciting opportunity to modernise without revolutionising itself--to provide the House with the necessary facilities and structures to do a better job in the interests of democracy. As--I hope--a member of the Committee, I shall seek to do my best to bring that about.

11.15 pm

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): There are a huge number of issues that I should like to raise and many anecdotes that I should like to recount--such as how it took three years as a member of the Finance and Services Committee to get water in the Committee Rooms--but time is short, so I shall be brief.

The most important thing that I want to say is that the Committee has before it the most wonderful opportunity to modernise the way in which we do our work--how we go about our business here in the mother of all democracies. When the Committee considers ways of reforming the procedures of the House, I hope that it will particularly consider the timetabling of business and the hours that we work here.

If we are truly to be a Parliament for all the people, where Members of Parliament are in touch with those whom we represent, we must spend time in our constituencies. That has nothing to do with working a shorter week; it is about being in touch, being able to make visits to organisations, community groups and people so that when we do come here we know what matters to those who elected us.

Above all else, I hope that the President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), who I know will do an excellent job in chairing the Committee, will consider the working week. I hope that the Committee will consider other European Parliaments and how we can so organise our business here that we can encapsulate what we do, perhaps with two, three or four issues going on at the same time, so that in the middle of the week we can concentrate our work in the House and have, say, a fixture list for a full year ahead so that we know when we can be in our constituencies and when we can make commitments to attend meetings. That would be to the benefit of the House. If we can meet that challenge, we shall see the benefits of a Parliament for all the British people.

11.18 pm

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor): This has been an interesting and worthwhile debate. We have heard enough from both sides of the House to justify the establishment of a Committee on modernisation of our procedures and the working of the House of Commons. We have had positive contributions from both sides which should be welcomed because they will stand us in good stead when the Committee meets.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), who made his maiden speech this evening. He mentioned that he had a majority of two--I doubt whether he can go anywhere without mentioning that fact--and that he had had the longest count ever. I thought that he would get an offer from my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) to write another play, this time called "A Majority of Two". I can certainly recommend the first contribution that my hon. Friend

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made: his play about the workings of the Whips Office was, I am afraid, incredibly accurate, as were most of the stories he told this evening. There is scope for change--everyone can agree on that.

When we had the debate on modernisation a couple of weeks ago, I came into the Chamber hoping that we would get a greater attendance than usual for a debate on procedure. I was hoping that instead of the normal five, six, seven or eight attenders, we might have got into the teens. I was absolutely staggered and incredibly pleased to see that at 7.30 pm there were 78 Labour Members in the Chamber when there was no vote and the next day was a recess. Many Opposition Members were also present. That showed just how much interest there is in the changes that need to take place.

It was important that we should move quickly to establish the Committee. I express my gratitude to the right hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad), the shadow Leader of House, and also to the minority parties, for their co-operation in getting the names selected and getting the Committee up and running quickly.

We have suggested that the Committee should have wide terms of reference. All the points that have been raised this evening can be considered by the Committee because of the way in which we have suggested the terms of reference. However, we must look at the priorities for the Committee; that is why I agreed very much with what the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) said about making sure that we got our priorities right and did not think that by one or two superficial or cosmetic changes we could make any radical reforms to the workings of the House.

We have suggested that the priority should be how we deal with our legislative procedures. I am glad to say that that proposal has been agreed to by Opposition Members. We have had constructive suggestions. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) mentioned Special Standing Committees, which we suggested on several occasions in opposition. I hope that we can suggest such Committees again in government. The whole framework in which we examine legislation must be looked at and I hope that we can come up with some initial conclusions relatively quickly in these vital areas because it is important that the House should change as quickly as possible. The Government want to help, perhaps by having piloting of different procedures if that seems appropriate. We should all work together to achieve that.

The motion gives the Select Committee the usual powers to have a special adviser and things of that kind. I hope that the right hon. Member for Eddisbury, who was somewhat worried about the remit, will acknowledge that given the range of issues that have been raised this evening, we are right to make sure that it is as wide as possible. We should indicate some priorities to the Committee, but I think that the Committee may wish to ask Members of the House for evidence or ideas and at that stage, we shall have to decide what the priorities are.


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