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


Letter from Andrew George MP to the Clerk of the Committee

  I wish to make a few brief and rather hastily put together remarks in response to the Consultation Paper on Modernisation.

  Broadly speaking, the main thrust of the Paper is welcome and I trust that the Modernisation Committee will bear in mind that for a perhaps small but significant number of Members of Parliament, the effort of travelling to and from the House of Commons usually requires some significant forward planning, a considerable amount of time, energy and, not to forget, the resources of the Fees Office.

  Certainly for an MP from the St Ives Constituency—that is West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly—normal travel times can exceed six hours, which can add to the very long working hours on those Parliamentary days I choose to travel to or from the constituency.

  I have the following comments to make about the report itself:


  I would argue that backbench speeches, especially in Second Reading debates, should be kept to a maximum of five minutes, but, in order to encourage a genuine exchange of views and scrutiny of argument, that backbenchers be permitted, say, an extension of their time by one minute per intervention up to a maximum of, say, five—where those interventions are made primarily not from their own Party benches.


  Ensuring that notice of questions for an Oral Question period can be tabled, say, a week before the event should surely be sufficient notice for the Ministers and officials. Even then it is inevitable that other more topical issues will arise in the interim.

  With regard to the proposed alteration in the way in which "planted" questions are dealt with, I would only add that the proposal is most welcome, provided the statement is clearly made fully available to Members to read in the House of Commons before the media get it. On far too many issues this is not the case.


  I have suffered, like many, many others, the almost incomprehendably inane nonsense trotted out by those Members who either wish to or have been instructed to "Filibuster". I am sure that most people agree that watching paint dry is a far more exciting prospect than suffering the time-wasting tactics of others at the Committee stage of the Bill.

  I have always felt that the Chairman should have the power (perhaps with the agreement of the frontbenches) to limit the length of speeches made from the backbenches or from those not moving the amendments being debated.

  On the other hand, I support the suggested removal of the entirely unnecessary artificial hurdle of completing all stages of a Bill within a certain period of months. This very factor has encouraged the use of time-wasting and other obstructive tactics rather than effective scrutiny.


  Proposed alterations in the working week would be welcome.

  However, I think that the Modernisation Committee needs to take into account that many Members will struggle to get to the Commons from their constituencies much before 10.30 am, if they, like I often have, a particularly busy day on a Monday which makes it almost impossible to get to London on a Monday. This, I am sure, doesn't just affect Members for West Cornwall, but those from other areas as well. Perhaps, instead of having Question Time for substantial departments like Defence and Home Affairs, etc, on Monday, there should be Question Time on Monday's for those other departments which are considered, if I can dare to say it, to be non "mainstream"—such as Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Attorney General, etc.


  These proposals are particularly welcome. Particularly if Parliament takes account of those Members with young families who would like to spend some time with their families during the February and October half-term holidays.


  Where there are a series of votes on which the outcome of one vote would not inform, alter or have any consequent implication for successive votes, I believe there must be a far more efficient way of voting for three or four motions all at once, rather than trooping through the Lobby about every 15 minutes for, potentially, hours on end.

  Congratulations on the efforts made to produce this report and I look forward to future debates on it.

25 January 2002

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