Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter from Julia Drown MP to the Chairman of the Committee

  I welcome the suggested moves to modernise the House of Commons. I think there is much that needs to be done to make the Commons more effective in scrutinising legislation, raising concerns of constituents and in making it a more sensible place to work in. Your plans are the most ambitious suggestions of any Leader so far and I fully support them as the least we should do to start making Parliament more effective which is important for the future of our democracy. I have put as a list in an appendix the things I particularly support or would wish for but I would urge you to look particularly at three things.

    1.  Increasing the ability of members to amend legislation. As backbenchers we can put in amendments to primary legislation but rarely get the opportunity to debate them, as they don't get picked. I recently attended a Standing Committee in which we discussed regulations under the affirmative procedure and it seemed regrettable that they had to be accepted in full and couldn't have been amended.

    2.  As part of the desire to get a list of speakers in debates and the desire for shorter debates more time limits need to be created to ensure that people who want to speak, really can speak in debates—I think even three minutes as a limit is adequate if lots of people want to speak.

    3.  The need to change the working hours of the House more than you suggest. My constituents think we are mad that the main House meets at the time we do. They suggest that not meeting in what would normally be seen as standard office time implies that being an MP is somehow an extra occupation rather than the real job that MPs should be doing.

    Without changing the Monday start time we could achieve the same hours as we currently sit by starting at 10am on Tuesday-Thursday and ending at 7pm on Mondays-Wednesdays and 5.30pm on Thursdays. For your information I am attaching a copy of a survey I did of Labour MPs views on the subject of timings in the House. As with most surveys the response rate was small but there was a huge majority that were very enthusiastically in favour of these times instead of the current ones. I hope this encourages you in this work.

    I hope you will do all you can to press for a timetable of this sort. It would achieve the objective of getting much more in the day's news with many things being able to hit the lunch time news. It would also be a step forward in getting our constituents to see Parliament as a serious place of work and would play a part in attracting more of the very best people in the country to come forward to be MPs. And, even if it only helps London MPs to spend more time with their children, that in itself is a good thing. If family policy is important we should live out what we believe in and not be ashamed of doing so. We should not be afraid of leading the way on family friendly policies—there is no doubt that most MPs work incredibly hard and making it slightly easier for some MPs children won't stop that. However, it would stop what sometimes feels like unnecessary cruelty to children.

  It is extremely important that we move this forward using a Commons majority and not wait for consensus in the House to emerge since all past experience shows that a consensus approach moves at the pace of the slowest dinosaur.

  I do wish you every luck with this. I think that Parliament has underestimated the huge credit it will get for modernising itself. The penalty in terms of increasing voter apathy and cynicism if the public see our institution remain unchanged is also a serious reason to take action sooner rather than later.

21 December 2001

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