THE PARLIAMENTARY CALENDAR: INITIAL PROPOSALS
THE PURPOSE OF REFORM
1. The purpose of reform is to make Parliament more
effective. This means allowing Members to make the best use of
their time, and to balance their various commitments in the House
and its Committees with the increasing workload and demands in
2. With this objective in mind, the House has already
modified its hours in a modest way through the Jopling reforms,
introduced following the Report from the Select Committee on Sittings
of the House in 1992.
3. Subsequently a more radical re-design of the Parliamentary
calendar has been sought. Added momentum for reform was given
by the early response by Members when asked for their ideas or
priorities for making Parliamentary work more effective and efficient.
As the Government's new constitutional changes take effect, proposals
for change will need to be evaluated.
4. The proposal in this Report for an experiment
is part of a wider agenda of Parliamentary and constitutional
reform. We propose to continue our work on the parallel chamber
or "Main Committee" (see Part II of this Report) because
it would allow more opportunities for Members to raise issues
of concern, and to do so at a time when they are more likely to
attract the media attention which is now a crucial factor in presenting
our work to those we represent.
5. The task for the Committee is to look at the traditional
functions of the House and its Members on the one hand; to look
at the time reasonably available to Members on the other; and
to see whether we can get a better fit.
6. In this Report we have taken as constant the traditional
functions of the House, as it is no part of our duties to redefine
them. They include the formation of a Government and holding it
to account; the scrutiny and passage of legislation; the authorisation
of taxation and public expenditure; and debating issues of concern
to the nation.
7. So far as the duties of Members outside the House
are concerned, every Member is aware that the demands of constituency
work have grown by leaps and bounds. Members are no longer expected
to visit their constituencies only occasionally in the recess,
and are expected to provide - as the majority do - regular advice
bureaux for constituents, as well as taking a keen interest in
local issues and building up good working relationships with statutory
and voluntary organisations in their constituencies.
8. Each Member approaches his or her task in the
House and in the constituency in a different way, but many find
it difficult to balance or juggle all the pressures on their time.
Our remit is to see whether the Parliamentary calendar can be
re-configured to make it easier for Members to discharge those
9. The electorate does not easily understand the
hours we work, especially when we legislate late at night. The
nature of the job does impose heavy and conflicting demands on
Members and it would be advantageous if we could change this,
not least because it could help the House become more representative
of society by allowing parents of young children to combine a
representative role with family duty. However we emphasise that,
important as these matters are, our primary purpose is to increase
the efficiency and effectiveness of the House and its individual
10. In this Report we describe briefly the existing
pattern and how it has developed. We then list a number of criticisms
of the current calendar that have been made to us, but we also
feel it important that there should be a widespread understanding
of the constraints (real or imagined) which inhibit proposals
11. We recognise that by and large change within
Parliament comes about in an evolutionary way. That is why in
other reports we have recommended trying out new ideas on an experimental
basis. We believe that the proposals we put forward in this Report
should be put into practice for an experimental period.
12. In Part II of this Report we discuss the possibility
of adopting a new approach and, drawing on experience elsewhere,
of devising a parallel debating chamber which could involve all
those Members who wished to attend and which could debate matters
which do not readily find time on the floor of the House. We want
to look at the scope for reorganising the business of the House
to allow for more flexibility in debates and to ensure there is
proper scope for both the confrontational and non-confrontational
types of debates, each of which has a role in our democratic system.
The idea for a parallel chamber or "Main Committee"
is a possible way of reconciling the various conflicting pressures.
Any progress in this direction could have consequences for the
Parliamentary calendar and we would welcome wider discussion of
these ideas (which have some cross-party support).
13. However, the specific recommendations in Part
I of this Report are free-standing and not in any way dependent
on a parallel chamber or "Main Committee".