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29 Oct 2002 : Column 720—continued

Mr. Simon Thomas: I want to make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that what I am about to say is coloured by the fact that I support at least 80 per cent. of the proposals. Is he not aware of recent moves by media companies such as the BBC to devote less broadcasting time to this place? For example, some reporters are going out, away from institutions such as Westminster, to set the political agenda elsewhere in the United Kingdom. We will not attract media attention and, therefore, voter interest back to this place until it does its job, which is to hold the Government to account. The hon. Gentleman has not yet proved that the changes, apart from being an improvement for the Members, will improve the scrutiny of the Government.

Mr. Tyler: That is a matter for individual Members to decide. The BBC gave evidence to the Modernisation Committee in which it welcomed the fact that Parliament would be seen to be taking the initiative earlier in the day. During the 1992–97 Parliament, when the hon. Gentleman was not here, there was a succession of evenings when we were voting at 10 o'clock and, on occasion, defeating the Government, but our electors had no idea of what we were doing. Commentators on the television and radio news repeatedly stated that something was going on in the House of Commons but they could not tell the public what was going on because the House was still voting—what a ridiculous situation.

There are still some members of the press who will sit through our proceedings all evening and attempt to get something about them in the broadsheets the next morning. The Press Association is the exception that proves the rule. However, the majority of those who, in a former age, sat in the Gallery and wrote screeds to be read by an elite in the broadsheets have long since gone. We must use the modern media to communicate with the people who send us here. That is what these proposals are about. Their aim is not to make life easier for us but to make Parliament more accessible to those who voted for us.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's arguments. The truth is that, apart from breaking news, the modern media will not report anything much after 5 pm. In my view, the proposals are not about protecting families or anything else, but about Parliament doing its job and

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speaking to the nation. There is no point in having long, drawn out speeches at 8 or 9 o'clock in the evening, when no one is listening to us.

Mr. Tyler: I have a great deal of sympathy with that view, and I hope that all hon. Members will therefore support shorter speeches. I shall try to speak briefly, so perhaps I should take no more interventions.

As the Leader of the House pointed out, the House sitting in the evening is a comparatively recent phenomenon. I have to take indirect responsibility for that, in that it was a notable constituent, Sir Goldsworthy Gurney of Bude, North Cornwall, who invented a gas light that made it possible for Members of Parliament to see what they were doing in the evening, thus making it possible for the House of Commons to sit then. That happened in the early 19th century; before then, our predecessors found it impossible to see what they were doing, dependent as they were on candlelight. I therefore think that there is a strong case for adjusting our business to the current technological position.

I agree with the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) about carry-over. There is an extraordinary degree of misunderstanding about carry-over. The absurdity of Second Reading debates and divisions coming along like London buses, three or four at a time, before Christmas, followed by a great dearth as the Bills go to the other place, and then a rush as they come back here for final stages, does not lend itself to intelligent scrutiny. It is similarly absurd that Governments introduce Bills that have not been properly prepared because they have to do so immediately after the Queen's Speech. Carry-over offers opportunities to spread the business, but safeguards are important.

There are two important safeguards, the first of which has already been mentioned. My hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) raised the issue in the Committee. If a measure is carried over and a bit more time is spent on it, less legislation is possible in the second year. There is a natural rate of throughput. I cannot accept the suggestion that carry-over means that a lot more legislation can be pushed through the pipeline—there simply is not the capacity to do that. More important still, as Lord Norton, an important constitutional expert, made clear, the House of Lords has also built in a highly effective safeguard to ensure that that House is not steamrollered into accepting carry-over, except in suitable circumstances.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and West Devon): What is important is the interaction on carry-over between the Lords and this place. Some Members on both sides of the House feel a degree of disquiet about that power, which we see as fettering our own. Will my hon. Friend confirm that there will be individual votes on each Bill to be carried over—it is a once-only thing—and individual votes by both Houses; and that failure in one House means that the Bill fails? Is that correct?

Mr. Tyler: It would be wrong of me to pretend any great expertise in how the other place will manage its business, but I think that the safeguard is critical. There is no way in which the carry-over can extend beyond the

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second Session—in effect, there is a 12-month envelope. Secondly, there is no way in which the Government can push an extension through the House of Commons without a debate. Of course, the Lords have to abide by their own rules and we cannot constrain them, but I am persuaded by the Conservatives' constitutional specialist, who gave evidence on that issue, that there are effective safeguards.

It is also worth mentioning that since all parties are now apparently devoted to the principle that the second Chamber, once reformed, will never again have a majority from any one party, the likelihood of the Lords proving to be irresponsible in applying the safeguards is extremely limited.

Sir Patrick Cormack: The hon. Gentleman favours a wholly elected House of Lords. How, in the name of goodness, can one guarantee that it will never have a majority from any one party?

Mr. Tyler: It depends entirely on the electoral system. I am sure that Mr. Deputy Speaker would not permit me to advance further down that route. There is no method under an electoral system that I would support, or I am sure that he would support—

Sir Patrick Cormack: No, I would not.

Mr. Tyler: —that would produce a majority for any one party in the House of Lords. I am grateful to hear the hon. Gentleman's apparent reaction to that.

Westminster Hall has proved a considerable success, not least because the different and more consensual layout enables Labour Members to cross-question Ministers without feeling in any way disloyal. The result is extremely interesting. I have participated in a number of debates at Westminster Hall, and Ministers have to answer to all Members in a way that is less party political but more effective.

I accept the point that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst made about deferred divisions. We need to look at that matter again. It is notable—I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not present to hear my compliment—that under the leadership of the Leader of the House there has been a great reduction in the number of deferred Divisions.

The issue of programming motions is also with us. I believe that it requires a great deal more attention. We have an explicit assurance that if the package before us makes some real progress, programming will be one of the subjects that has to be debated, not only with those who occupy the Front Benches of both Opposition parties, but with Members generally. I believe that those who will undertake a particular stage of scrutiny, as members of a Standing Committee or when a Bill returns to the whole House, should have the greatest say in how that exercise will be undertaken. That has begun to happen embryonically with some Bills and in respect of some Committees. The hon. Member for Macclesfield has given us a lead on the extent to which the Chair of a Committee can assist in that process. That is extremely important.

Finally, there is the issue of short speeches. Clearly, I should try to complete my remarks as soon as I can to meet the requirement. I shall take advantage of a

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quotation that was handed to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). Members may know that in former time reports of the proceedings of this place were sometimes illegal and sometimes very constrained. Very often the only people who could tell the outside world what was really going on in the House were the Doorkeepers. I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has told me of a Mr. William White, a former Head Doorkeeper. In 1870, he wrote:

I intend to prolong my life by coming to a conclusion.

First, I believe that this place works best when we adopt an evolutionary approach to the way in which we operate, not a revolutionary one. To the extent to which we have achieved consensus in the Modernisation Committee, that is much to the credit of all members of it, not least to the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, who has played a constructive role.

Secondly, I believe that we must increase the topicality and relevance of our proceedings. Thirdly, we must try to ensure that our proceedings are more visible and accessible to those who send us to this place; otherwise we are in great danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant and giving too much power to the Government, who will then have literally the whip hand.

As I have said, I believe that the proposals are voter friendly, which is what gives them their strength. If we can both improve scrutiny and have more control over the management of our own business in the House, we shall be doing a very good turn for Parliament this evening.

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