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The President of the Council was asked--

Millennium Compliance

42. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): What assessment she has made of the value for money obtained by expenditure on millennium compliance. [104973]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): The expenditure finally incurred was slightly less than originally expected. It was met from existing agreed spending plans, not by extra subvention. It successfully addressed the substantial problems incurred during the programme, which, if ignored, would have led to material disruption to public services. All that suggests that it was good value for money.

Mr. Robathan: Madam Speaker, after your advice yesterday: what bug?

Mrs. Beckett: All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that I am afraid that he shows his ignorance by that question. There are hundreds of examples of problems. The Benefits Agency has made it plain that it would not have been able to continue to pay benefits. Organisations such as Sainsbury and Tesco have made it plain that their operations would have collapsed if they had not undertaken the work that was required.

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk): Does my right hon. Friend agree that British industry as well as Government have gained two considerable benefits from the exercise? First, a whole breed of managers running British industry now realises how critical information technology in their companies is to their future. Secondly, we have probably had one of the biggest upgrades in IT, which will be beneficial to our world trade.

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend is right. Indeed, I have just had a conversation with an expert on management issues who has attempted to assess the impact of the work and has made exactly those points about the value to British business of cleaning up much of their IT, of investing in IT and, most of all, of recognising the need for management of IT, which is not always done.


The President of the Council was asked--


43. Mr. Paul Clark (Gillingham): If she will make a statement on (a) the changes made in the House as a result of the work of the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons and (b) their impact on (i) hon. Members and (ii) staff of the House and of hon. Members. [104974]

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The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): Forty-seven of the recommendations of the Select Committee on Modernisation have already been implemented. They include more Bills scrutinised in draft and experiments with earlier sittings on Thursday and with sittings in Westminster Hall. Together they have provided more time for debates, better structured debates and better use of time for Members and staff.

Mr. Clark: I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House are pleased to see progress, but bearing in mind the fact that the remit of the Modernisation Committee is to look at efficient and effective use of time in the House of Commons, does she agree that the recent antics by the Conservative party call for greater timetabling of legislation? Would that not be a matter for the Modernisation Committee to consider?

Mrs. Beckett: As my hon. Friend may know, it is one of the issues that, on an all-party basis, the Modernisation Committee considered at the outset of the Parliament. It recommended that we should make greater use of programming, so that we can be confident that the most important issues in legislation that comes before the House are adequately covered and that time is not wasted on things that are not important. However, I fear that the understanding and agreement across the House in the earliest days of this Parliament seem to be waning. My hon. Friend is right to identify that, if we continue to have exceptional problems, that will cause further difficulties which the Government and the House will have to consider.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): The Modernisation Committee's first report mentioned use of Joint Committees with the Upper House as a useful way of making progress on pre-legislative scrutiny. In order to deal with reports that the Government are planning to drag their feet on stage 2 of House of Lords reform, will the right hon. Lady tell the House when she proposes to establish the promised Joint Committee to take forward the Wakeham report?

Mrs. Beckett: As the right hon. Gentleman is already well aware, the Government have not made a decision on the timetable for that Joint Committee. He will also know that, of the half dozen draft Bills that have been considered in Committees of the House or of both Houses, two--the draft Local Government Bill and Financial Services and Markets Bill--were considered in Joint Committees.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): Is my right hon. Friend aware that democracy is indeed a messy and expensive business; that the timetabling of all Bills would lead irrevocably to Back Benchers of all parties having fewer and fewer rights in this place; and that the fact that Front Benchers may agree on a particular measure is not--if she will forgive my saying so, with the greatest respect--any guarantee that it is in the interests either of the House of Commons or of the electorate?

Mrs. Beckett: I completely understand the basic point that my hon. Friend is making. First, however, I should

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remind her that the Modernisation Committee is not composed only of Front Benchers--only two Front Benchers serve on it--but contains mostly Back Benchers, from both sides of the House.

Secondly, I accept that timetabling all Bills would have implications. I have the greatest respect for my hon. Friend, but this is one issue on which we do not agree. In opposition, I took the view that major legislation should be timetabled. As an Opposition Front Bencher, I always pursued that policy in seeking to ensure that we dealt with the issues that really should be dealt with, because I have never thought that the public understand why some hon. Members waste time on what hours or days we should sit. I take the same attitude in government as I took in opposition.

Palace of Westminster (Access)

44. Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): What action she proposes to take to deal with the difficulties experienced by hon. Members in obtaining access to the Palace of Westminster during demonstrations immediately outside the precinct of the House. [104975]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): The House approves the Sessional Order at the start of each Session, as it is a matter of constitutional importance that access be maintained. The Order is communicated to the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis by the Serjeant at Arms. If the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) or any other hon. Member experiences difficulties, he or she should inform the Serjeant at Arms, so that the matter can be taken up with the Commissioner.

Mr. Winterton: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Some years ago, I took part in a demonstration of textile workers and clothing workers marching from Hyde park. The nearest we were allowed to the House of Commons was the Tate gallery, because it was stated that it would be inappropriate that hon. Members should risk being intimidated or hustled as they sought to gain easy and ready access to the precincts of the House of Commons.

Will the Leader of the House and the Government, with the other authorities, give consideration to preventing the demonstrations that now occur in very close proximity to the House--whether the demonstration is in favour of extraditing Senator Pinochet, of releasing Senator Pinochet, of establishing an English Parliament or of whatever it may be--so that hon. Members who need to gain ready access to this place do not have to struggle at certain times in the day to do so, and so that other people legitimately seeking access may gain it without being intimidated?

Mr. Tipping: I am fascinated by the notion of a demonstration, even a textile demonstration, being led by the hon. Gentleman. It is no wonder it was stopped at the Tate gallery, as he has a reputation for intimidating people. More seriously, however, demonstrations seem to have been allowed to come closer to the House, and that

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may raise issues. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Serjeant at Arms is in contact with police on the matter, and we shall have to consider possible solutions.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Is my hon. Friend aware that the on-going demonstration to extradite Senator Pinochet--who is no more a senator than I am--is being held across the road and that it could in no way be an obstruction to hon. Members seeking to enter the House? Will you, Madam Speaker, also tell the shop steward on the Tory Benches that, last night, I took the opportunity of going along and congratulating the demonstrators who want Pinochet tried and brought to justice? I told them that they were doing a wonderful job.

Mr. Tipping: My hon. Friend will know that the demonstrators play some wonderful music and chant some wonderful chants, which have extended my own repertoire quite a lot. However, he is right that the demonstration is on the other side of the road. As far as I and the Serjeant at Arms are aware, no problems have been caused by either side involved in it.

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