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Mr. David Davis: I am sure that the Minister does not intend to mislead the House, but am equally sure that on a couple of occasions at least under the previous Government, Cabinet Ministers answered debates on the Floor on Wednesdays.

Mr. Tipping: That may well be the case, but the right hon. Gentleman, who is a fair man, will have heard me say that I would check the record. It was not my personal recollection that Cabinet Ministers had done so. As Westminster Hall becomes more topical, probing and significant, it may well be that Departments will make different judgments about who should represent them there.

We have taken an important step forward with Westminster Hall; much has been achieved, but we can improve matters and do better--Westminster Hall is still a fledgling. I am not one of the scoffers in this Chamber; I know the real importance of bringing up in this place issues that are essential to my constituents and to

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my region. We must engage in debate and probe issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron) told us how she had been able to make progress in relation to rail freight passing through her constituency as a direct result of a debate held in Westminster Hall.

Mr. Maclean: I am grateful to the Minister for his usual courtesy in giving way. I am one of those who has scoffed that many Members seek debates in Westminster Hall in order to obtain local media coverage. In order that I may be wholly disproved and so that I may apologise to the House, will the Minister consider a proper experiment whereby the live radio and television feeds are switched off for six months? We could thus make an assessment of the issues raised by hon. Members and of the number of Members who apply for debates. If the radio feed were switched off for a while, we might be able to come to a proper, fair assessment.

Mr. Tipping: The right hon. Gentleman is another example of those who want to turn the clock back. He will recall that when Westminster Hall was established, there was no live feed; it was installed because of demand from hon. Members and from the regional press--[Interruption.] Hon. Members say that of course it is right that Members want to be in Parliament--in Westminster Hall--showing that they can take up causes and achieve things for their constituents. I am amazed that there are hon. Members in the Chamber who do not share that view.

Some of my hon. Friends referred to how the Westminster Hall agenda is drawn up. A third of the debates are initiated by Back Benchers on an Adjournment, with topics selected through the Speaker's Office. We have made changes to ensure that more Select Committee reports are discussed in Westminster Hall. Today's debate and the reports of the Modernisation Committee have shown that Adjournment debates on a Government motion, agreed with the Opposition, have not gone well. We have learned from that and we shall reduce such debates.

Hon. Members have drawn attention to the need to make better use of Select Committee reports. We have benefited from the presence at today's debate of several influential Select Committee Chairmen. They will acknowledge that some reports are good, but that some are not so good. They will also acknowledge that the current Select Committee system--together with the extra opportunities offered for debate in Westminster Hall--permit those Committees to call Ministers to account.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish made it clear that, if a Select Committee report does not receive the response from the Government for which the Committee had hoped, the Minister can again be called to give evidence before the Committee. That is a good and important way forward. No one should pretend that the decision that we are taking will deny Select Committees extra opportunities; in fact, we are offering reinforcement.

The hon. Member for Epping Forest asked me to confirm that the Government have no intention of taking substantive business in Westminster Hall. She will have noted the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House during earlier exchanges. The first report of the Modernisation Committee and the reports before the House today reinforce that point.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): The hon. Gentleman spoke in glowing terms of the highly

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important debate on the sugar industry to be initiated in Westminster Hall tomorrow by my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard). Will he set an example by asking his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to reply personally to that important debate? That would reinforce the importance of Westminster Hall and of the debates that take place there.

Mr. Tipping: I give credit where it is due. The right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk deserves to have her name mentioned in dispatches for raising that important issue. There are sugar-beet farmers in my constituency and I too have pressed the matter with my right hon. Friend the Minister. As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) pointed out, sometimes we have to take a drip-drip-drip approach--a cumulative effect--to bring about change.

Westminster Hall offers many opportunities. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire asked about access to Westminster Hall for people with a disability. Work will start in the summer of 2001, after work on the Westminster Hall cafeteria. I was also asked to ensure that the proposed work came in on time and at cost. A sum of £4,000 has been agreed for the new layout; it will be a marvel if we achieve our timetable, but I am determined that we shall do our best. I am grateful for the support of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton on that matter.

A number of other suggestions were made. For example, it was suggested that the speakers in Westminster Hall should have lecterns and that the Hansard reporters should have better facilities. The Modernisation Committee has considered or is considering those issues.

My good friend, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, said--I paraphrase his remarks--that it is good to talk. That is so, and Westminster Hall gives us opportunities to talk. However, my hon. Friend is right to say that the informal discussions that take place around the Palace of Westminster are important and influential. I was once nearly thrown out of university for suggesting that I had learned more in the bar than I had ever learned in the lecture theatre. I shall not make a similar claim now, but I inform colleagues that I will be in the bar later if anyone wants to have an informal discussion with me. I am open to offers.

Question put and agreed to.


Question put:--

The House divided: Ayes 275, Noes 22.

Division No. 340
[8.36 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Allan, Richard
Allen, Graham
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Ballard, Jackie
Barnes, Harry
Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Bennett, Andrew F
Benton, Joe
Bermingham, Gerald
Best, Harold
Blackman, Liz
Blizzard, Bob
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Brake, Tom
Brand, Dr Peter
Breed, Colin
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Browne, Desmond
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Butler, Mrs Christine
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, Dale
Caplin, Ivor
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chidgey, David
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann
Coffey, Ms Ann
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Corston, Jean
Cotter, Brian
Cousins, Jim
Cox, Tom
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Darvill, Keith
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davis, Rt Hon Terry
(B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, John
Dismore, Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank
Drew, David
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Fearn, Ronnie
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Don (Bath)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
Gerrard, Neil
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godman, Dr Norman A
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Gorrie, Donald
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grocott, Bruce
Grogan, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Hancock, Mike
Harvey, Nick
Healey, John
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Hodge, Ms Margaret
Hood, Jimmy
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Hurst, Alan
Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Keetch, Paul
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S
Kidney, David
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Kirkwood, Archy
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Lammy, David
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Llwyd, Elfyn
Lock, David
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Ms Chris
McDonnell, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNamara, Kevin
McNulty, Tony
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Maxton, John
Meale, Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Miller, Andrew
Moffatt, Laura
Moore, Michael
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Morley, Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
Oaten, Mark
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Hara, Eddie
Olner, Bill
Organ, Mrs Diana
Pearson, Ian
Pendry, Tom
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Powell, Sir Raymond
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Primarolo, Dawn
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Nick
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Rendel, David
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Rogers, Allan
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Roy, Frank
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Ryan, Ms Joan
Sanders, Adrian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Soley, Clive
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stoate, Dr Howard
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Stunell, Andrew
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Touhig, Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tyler, Paul
Vis, Dr Rudi
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Willis, Phil
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Worthington, Tony
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Clive Betts and
Mr. David Jamieson.


Amess, David
Bercow, John
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Clappison, James
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Leigh, Edward
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Moss, Malcolm
Pound, Stephen
Prior, David
Robertson, Laurence
St Aubyn, Nick
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Swayne, Desmond
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Trend, Michael
Wells, Bowen
Whittingdale, John

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. David Maclean and
Mr. Eric Forth.

Question accordingly agreed to.

20 Nov 2000 : Column 101


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