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 debatesI 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 policiesthere
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