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Modernisation Committee

43. Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes): What proposals she plans to bring before the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons; and if she will make a statement. [136368]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): The Modernisation Committee has produced radical changes to our business. I anticipate that in the near future it will be chiefly concerned with monitoring those changes. Some other suggestions, including electronic voting in the Lobby, are being considered.

Mr. Baker: I intend no discourtesy to you, Mr. Speaker, or to your colleagues, but is it not appropriate for the Modernisation Committee to consider the method of election of the Speaker--and, perhaps more importantly, of the Deputy Speakers? Yesterday a Deputy Speaker emerged--Vatican-style, with white smoke--into the Chair. I make no comment on her appropriateness, but I think that hon. Members should have an opportunity to vote on such matters.

Mr. Tipping: As always, Mr. Speaker, Vatican-style elections yield the correct result. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Procedure Committee is currently considering the matter and taking evidence. The proposal is for a joint meeting of the Procedure Committee and the Modernisation Committee.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart): Is my hon. Friend aware that of the six hours that it took to elect you, Mr. Speaker, two were taken up with traipsing through the Lobbies? Is he also aware that our decision last week to take on a Wednesday afternoon votes that would have taken place after 10 o'clock means that we could spend considerable time--wasted time, in my view--traipsing through the Lobbies on a Wednesday? Is it not urgent that the Modernisation Committee should consider electronic voting and introduce it as soon as possible?

Mr. Tipping: I hope that not only the Modernisation Committee but all hon. Members will have the

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opportunity to consider electronic voting. An initiative that I anticipate will come to fruition very soon is an exhibition upstairs in the Upper Waiting Hall, which will allow hon. Members to look at the technology and discuss it.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): Whatever the merits or demerits of these so-called radical reforms in our procedures, do the Government intend to reverse the situation that exists on a Thursday afternoon, whereby this House meets in two different places at the same time? Is that not an absurd anomaly?

Mr. Tipping: The hon. Gentleman, and all hon. Members, will have an opportunity to discuss those issues. There are different views. I believe that Westminster Hall, and earlier starts on a Thursday, are for the benefit of the House, but the House will have the benefit of that discussion, and a vote, on Monday.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Does the Minister understand the concern felt, especially among Conservative Members, that we need to do more than simply monitor the Modernisation Committee's proposals, and that there is serious unfinished business? For a start, the House has yet to vote on the question of Select Committees. I hope that he will assure the House that we will have an opportunity to vote on Select Committees, on the Floor of the House, before he starts his monitoring.

Mr. Tipping: The hon. Lady took part in the debate last Thursday on the Liaison Committee's report. In my winding-up speech I said that when the dust had settled and people had had an opportunity to consider the arguments, and when the Government had had the opportunity to listen, we would review the way forward.

44. Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): If she will make a statement on the Government's response to proposals from the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons. [136369]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping): The Government usually respond to reports from the Modernisation Committee by inviting the House to agree to changes in procedure. Sessional Orders implementing the most recent proposals were agreed by the House last week. To date, the overwhelming majority of the Committee's proposals have been implemented.

Mr. McCabe: Does my hon. Friend agree that pre-legislative scrutiny is one measure that can lead to more considered and better quality legislation, and perhaps remove some of the more petty elements from our scrutiny system? Will he do everything he can to extend such scrutiny where appropriate?

Mr. Tipping: Like my hon. Friend, I am very clear that pre-legislative scrutiny has been valuable. I hope that the House will have opportunities in the not too distant future to do much more of it. I hope that in the course of time, a vast amount of pre-legislative scrutiny can take place.

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Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): How many times in the past have major changes to the procedures of the House been introduced which have not been reached through consensus?

Mr. Tipping: Major changes are agreed by hon. Members themselves, on a free vote. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not proposing that a small group of Members, including some of his colleagues, should be able to veto proposals that find consent among the majority of the House.


The President of the Council was asked--

Millennium Date Change

45. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South): What assessment she has made of the efficacy of the arrangements made for the millennium date change. [136370]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): I refer my hon. Friend to the answer that I gave on 19 April, which appears in the Official Report at column 425W. The arrangements that were put in place to handle the millennium date change were successful, with the UK almost untouched by the bug. That did not happen by accident.

The work has delivered far-reaching benefits which were drawn out in a command paper entitled "Modernising Government in Action: Realising the Benefits of Y2K", which I published on the same date.

Mr. Chapman: I pay tribute to the work done by my right hon. Friend and her colleagues in making sure that the preparations for dealing with the millennium bug were a success. Will she confirm that to a degree, those preparations and that contingency planning have proved relevant to dealing with the fuel issue? Does she agree that the lessons learned from the millennium bug planning could be read across, and thereby helped large companies with the contingency planning needed to lessen disruption for their customers?

Mrs. Beckett: On behalf of all those who did so much work on the matter, I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is entirely right: during the recent fuel supply difficulties a considerable number of companies were able to draw on the continuity plans assembled over the millennium period, not least those drawn up by the health service and various large fuel supply companies. Those involved in the work of Action 2000 have been contacted by a number of people thanking them for the work that they had done, and saying what a help it had proved to be.

Business-Government Links

47. Mr. Anthony D. Wright (Great Yarmouth): What response she has had on her initiative to improve links between the Government and business. [136372]

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The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): I informed the House on Thursday 11 May of the decision to establish the business co-ordination unit in my Department--my answer appears in the Official Report at column 433W. I am pleased to report that the unit is now fully staffed and operational, and is making a significant contribution to improving Government contact with all sectors of business across the UK. The responses to the establishment of the BCU of which I am aware have been uniformly positive.

Mr. Wright: Will my right hon. Friend say whether the BCU will be of positive benefit to the chamber of commerce in Great Yarmouth? What will the new initiative target for the business community be?

Mrs. Beckett: I recently had the pleasure of meeting the presidents of the British Chambers of Commerce, and I can tell my hon. Friend that that organisation has very much welcomed the establishment of the BCU. Part of the unit's purpose is to ensure that a better system is devised for the many groups and bodies who want to have contact with Ministers. The aim is to establish such contacts across Government, not merely in Departments that customarily deal with the business community in their daily work.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Given that the right hon. Lady has set herself the admirable objective of improving links with business, will she say when she intends to study the speech made by Mr. Chris Humphries, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, on 20 January this year? He said that despite their rhetoric, the Government had dramatically increased the regulatory burdens that threaten small business competitiveness.

Mrs. Beckett: I am indeed aware of that speech, and have discussed the issue with Mr. Humphries. However, I am sorry and surprised that the hon. Lady--[Laughter.]--I beg his pardon, I meant the hon. Gentleman. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not quoted some of the more recent speeches made by

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Mr. Humphries, which have welcomed many of the steps that the Government have taken in their partnership with business.

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