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44. Ms Joan Walley (Stoke–on–Trent, North): To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, what his targets are for the recycling of paper on the parliamentary estate. [10354]

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (on behalf of the House of Commons Commission): The House authorities follow the Government targets of 40 per cent. recovery of waste, with 25 per cent. of that being recycled. We currently exceed those targets, with 100 per cent. of waste recovered. In the current financial year, we expect 50 per cent. of that to be recycled.

Ms Walley: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reply, but I have long supported genuinely effective paper recycling at the House of Commons. Approximately six years ago, some mysterious brown paper bags became available in our offices. There were rumours that they were going straight to landfill or incineration, and not for recycling. How does the hon. Gentleman monitor recycling here? It is crucial that the House set an example of "do as we do" rather than "do as we say". We need to implement our commitment.

Mr. Kirkwood: The hon. Lady is right and makes a valid point. We have not properly considered the disposal of paper in the past. In the current financial year, we have started to disaggregate the amount of paper that we collect. I believe that paper constituted 30 per cent. of the total waste material recovered last year. However, I cannot tell the hon. Lady the exact proportion of recycled paper. I take her point to heart, and I shall ensure that the disposal of parliamentary rubbish is put on the agenda of the appropriate Committee at the earliest opportunity.

6 Nov 2001 : Column 107

The President of the Council was asked—

Parliamentary Questions

45. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): If he will bring forward proposals to the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons for reform of the process for tabling parliamentary questions. [10355]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Stephen Twigg): Parliamentary questions provide an important mechanism for Members of the House to hold the Executive to account. The Procedure Committee is currently undertaking an investigation into the system for tabling parliamentary questions, and into the possibility of tabling questions and motions electronically. I look forward to its conclusions being brought to the House for our consideration.

Mr. Heath: Setting aside the fact that it would be nice if written questions for a named day could be answered on that day, does not the two-week delay between tabling an oral question and having it answered mean that Parliament often appears blithely oblivious of the topics of the day outside the Chamber? Does it not also mean that hon. Members have to apply absurd circumlocutions to make a question relevant to the question on the Order Paper? If civil servants can prepare appropriate notes for Ministers replying to Adjournment debates, other debates or private notice questions in a matter of days, why can they not do the same for oral questions at departmental Question Times?

Mr. Twigg: The hon. Gentleman raised this matter with my predecessor a year ago, and it is certainly not a new matter for the House. The Procedure Committee reported on it more than 10 years ago, and at that time proposed a reduction in the notice period to five days. That proposal was rejected by the Government at the time. Hon. Members on both sides of the House look forward to the outcome of the present deliberations of the Procedure Committee, when we shall have the opportunity to consider the matter again. Clearly, this is a question of striking a balance between ensuring the topicality that the hon. Gentleman seeks and ensuring that hon. Members asking questions are given fully briefed answers.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): While I recognise that government does not come to a standstill when the House is in recess, is it not time to reconsider whether we should be able, in a sensible way, to put written questions to the Executive during parliamentary recesses?

Mr. Twigg: My hon. Friend has raised this matter on a number of occasions, including through his membership of the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons. I do not know whether the Procedure Committee is examining the matter—but I see that the Chairman is nodding, so perhaps it is. That will, therefore, be one of the conclusions that we shall be able to consider when the Procedure Committee reports.

6 Nov 2001 : Column 108

Online Consultation

46. Margaret Moran (Luton, South): What plans he has to allow online consultation on draft Bills. [10356]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Stephen Twigg): New forms of information and communications technology provide important opportunities for widening public participation in the democratic process. It is for individual Committees investigating draft Bills to decide how to conduct their investigations, but I welcome the fact that Committees are making greater use of the internet. On the Government side, draft Bills are now routinely published on the internet, and consultations invite e-mail responses.

Margaret Moran: Is my hon. Friend aware of the online interactive dialogue called Women Speak, which was held by the all-party group on domestic violence with survivors of domestic violence? It involved voices largely unheard by hon. Members, including Irish women travellers and Bangladeshi women. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that the House, when considering legislation, should hear the voices of those who usually go unheard? Will he actively encourage more online interactive consultation on draft Bills?

Mr. Twigg: Yes. I pay tribute to the excellent work that my hon. Friend has done on domestic violence and in pioneering e-democracy. I also pay tribute to her ingenuity in raising the matter twice in different sets of questions this afternoon. It is clearly vital that we use all the forms of technology available to us to encourage an interactive approach for members of the public. Important lessons can be learned from the Women Speak pilot that my hon. Friend mentioned. As of January 2001, all Government documents have routinely been published on the internet. That is an important first step, but we have a long way to go to ensure that we use all these forms of technology properly.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Are the Minister and his right hon. Friend aware that this proposal has been given its current impetus by early-day motion 347, led by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen), who is not in his place this afternoon? Is the Minister aware that the context for this is that hon. Member's splendid diatribe on the growth of presidential power in No. 10, and that this is an attempt somewhat to redress the balance of power by bringing back to the House of Commons the opportunity to scrutinise legislation and Executive actions more effectively? Have the Minister and his right hon. Friend had the opportunity to see an advance copy of their hon. Friend's book? If so, perhaps the Minister would like to give us his reaction?

Mr. Twigg: I am tempted to say that my hon. Friend is not here because he is working on his computer. I have not had a chance to see his book either online or on paper, but I look forward to doing so. It demonstrates that there is a continuing and important debate to be had about constitutional reform and about how we can strengthen this Parliament. The task of the Modernisation Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, is very much concerned with strengthening Parliament and its ability to serve as an effective forum for national political debate.

6 Nov 2001 : Column 109

Points of Order

3.30 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, in response to my private notice question about Railtrack, the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions said—speaking of the chairman of Railtrack—

This morning, on Radio 4's "Today" programme, the chairman of Railtrack was interviewed. James Naughtie said:

The chairman replied:

I am sure that the Secretary of State would not wish Members to be given a misleading impression of the nature of that meeting, Mr. Speaker. Have you received any approach from the Secretary of State indicating that he wishes to come to the House and make a statement?

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me reply to the point of order.

I have had no communication from the Secretary of State on that subject.

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