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10.6 pm

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty). I nearly spoiled matters by introducing a note of consensus, even though that is not my preference in politics either. The hon. Gentleman saved me from that, however. I oppose the motion, but support the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)--not only because the amendment could have no finer pedigree, but because any Members who take seriously the role of this Chamber must accept the arguments that have been advanced for the amendment. Those arguments include the following: that the meetings in Westminster Hall must be considered to be a Committee of the House and not in any way equivalent to what goes on in this Chamber; that we should hold Wednesday debates in this Chamber and that their removal would diminish the value of what goes on here; and that the seating in the new Committee Room should be on the same model as the seating in this Chamber. I have never disagreed with Labour Members simply because they sit opposite me--nor have I necessarily agreed with Members on the Opposition Benches because they sit on the same Benches as I do. Some of my hon. Friends have made the same point. However, the crucial point is that the seating arrangement matters. That is why it is essential that we retain the existing plan. The reason is that it assists scrutiny and makes it less likely that there will be cover-up and fudge. It makes proper questioning and debate more likely.

Most important, I support the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst that relate to the quorum. To suggest that there is a huge demand for sittings in Westminster Hall when the quorum is to be fixed at three gives the lie to the whole proposal.

24 May 1999 : Column 127

Mr. Pike: In this Chamber, the quorum is only invoked when a vote is called. There is no stated quorum, so the quorum is often only three--or even less.

Mr. Brady: I am well aware of that point. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter. The proceedings in this Chamber might be improved if we had a quorum. The point demonstrates the problem in terms of the status of what we do and the attention that is paid to it. The issue is more about the quality of our proceedings and the genuine, intrinsic interest of debates--which sometimes draw only a small number of Members--than about the amount of time in which we have to deal with business.

The role of Select Committees has been discussed by several hon. Members--including the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike). It has been pointed out that many of those Committees have difficulty in achieving a quorum for their meetings. Again, that demonstrates the fact that Members do not always bother to turn up to debate important matters or to attend important meetings. In considering the new Committee in Westminster Hall, we are also led to the inescapable conclusion that there will be even more difficulties for Select Committees, which, in many cases, are struggling to achieve a quorum, when the limited number of occasions on which they can currently meet will conflict further with sittings of this House. That will cause significant problems for the more active Members of Parliament.

Some have suggested that the new Committee might serve as some sort of job creation scheme for Labour Members who currently have little to do, but I would counter that by arguing that many hon. Members who currently do rather a lot will find it impossible to participate fully in the additional work. Those who are involved in Standing Committees and Select Committees might want to participate in some of the meetings in Westminster Hall, but they will be unable to do so.

It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Madam Speaker put the Questions necessary to dispose of those proceedings, pursuant to Order [21 May.]

Amendment proposed: in line 3, at end add:


Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The House proceeded to a Division--

Mr. Robathan: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. We were categorically assured at the start of the debate--I believe that you were present--that this was not a payroll vote and that Government Members were not whipped. Is it in order for Government Whips to act as Tellers on the vote?

Madam Speaker: What Government Whips do is nothing to do with me. Hon. Members are free to use whichever Lobby they want--indeed, I am honoured because several hon. Members have, as they passed by the Chair, asked which way they should vote. That has never happened to me before.

24 May 1999 : Column 128

The House having divided: Ayes 43, Noes 144.

Division No. 196
[10.11 pm


AYES


Amess, David
Barnes, Harry
Bell, Martin (Tatton)
Bennett, Andrew F
Blunt, Crispin
Brady, Graham
Burnett, John
Clwyd, Ann
Colvin, Michael
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Donohoe, Brian H
Duncan Smith, Iain
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Flight, Howard
Fox, Dr Liam
Fraser, Christopher
Gibb, Nick
Gill, Christopher
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Green, Damian
Hammond, Philip
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Leigh, Edward
Lidington, David
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Nicholls, Patrick
Öpik, Lembit
Pickles, Eric
Randall, John
Robathan, Andrew
Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Swayne, Desmond
Wardle, Charles
Waterson, Nigel
Webb, Steve
Wells, Bowen
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)

Tellers for the Ayes:


Mr. Eric Forth and
Mr. David Maclean.


NOES


Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Allan, Richard
Allen, Graham
Atkins, Charlotte
Baker, Norman
Ballard, Jackie
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradshaw, Ben
Breed, Colin
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Burden, Richard
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Caplin, Ivor
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clelland, David
Coaker, Vernon
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cotter, Brian
Cranston, Ross
Cunliffe, Lawrence
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Darvill, Keith
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Efford, Clive
Etherington, Bill
Fearn, Ronnie
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Lorna
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Gapes, Mike
George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Goggins, Paul
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Gunnell, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hancock, Mike
Hanson, David
Harvey, Nick
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Heppell, John
Hope, Phil
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Keeble, Ms Sally
Kemp, Fraser
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Linton, Martin
Livsey, Richard
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Lock, David
McAvoy, Thomas
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNamara, Kevin
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Maxton, John
Merron, Gillian
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Moffatt, Laura
Moran, Ms Margaret
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Oaten, Mark
Olner, Bill
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prescott, Rt Hon John
Purchase, Ken
Quinn, Lawrie
Rendel, David
Rowlands, Ted
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Salter, Martin
Sanders, Adrian
Savidge, Malcolm
Sheerman, Barry
Short, Rt Hon Clare
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Soley, Clive
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Stoate, Dr Howard
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Stunell, Andrew
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
(Dewsbury)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Tonge, Dr Jenny
Touhig, Don
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tyler, Paul
Walley, Ms Joan
Watts, David
Willis, Phil
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Noes:


Mr. Keith Hill and
Mr. Kevin Hughes.

Question accordingly negatived.

24 May 1999 : Column 129

Main Question put:--

The House divided: Ayes 145, Noes 36.


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