Letter from Mr Andrew Tyrie MP to the
Chairman of the Committee
I support the lion's share of your proposals.
As you know, I set out a number of detailed proposals on many
of the points you raise, as well as on the review of Select Committees
to which I gather you will shortly be turning, in a paper I sent
to all MPs a couple of years ago, Mr Blair's Poodle. Rather
than rehearse all that ground again I would like to reiterate
just one general point from the Poodle and add a couple
The heart of the matter, it seems to me, lies
in paragraphs 10 to 12 and 26 to 28. I suggested the creation
of a committee day on which parliamentary committees but not the
floor of the House met. I would be very grateful if your committee
could consider this.
Not only does the Commons sit for longer hours,
its "plenary" debating chamber is in sessions for much
longer. Only a small proportion of these debates improve legislation
or strengthen democracy. Many of them are padded out by reluctant
Members at the behest of their respective whips and are little
better than a waste of time. Few listen to these ritual exchanges
outside the Chamber; we scarcely bother to listen to one another.
You imply (para 26) that the complexity of modern
political life requires long sittings. The truth is that, as the
vast majority of parliaments around the world have gathered, complexity
requires specialisation in committees by parliaments and less
time spent attempting to debate such issues in plenary chambers.
At the heart of the debate to make MPs' time more effective must
be an increase in focused select committee work. We must recognise
that this has to be at the expense of the floor of the House.
Without some such rebalancing between committee
and chamber work, on which at various stages in the last century
almost all parliaments around the world have engaged (the Americans
started to abandon regular plenary sessions in favour of committee
work as early as the 1820s, having begun by replicating Westminster),
any attempt to boost committees is likely to founder.
A number of lesser points:
Para 11. Consistent with the above,
I would limit all backbench speeches to 10 minutes, perhaps even
eight. Almost all the really good debates I have attended have
been so limited. Related to that, I would consider telling backbenchers
how much flying time they can expect in the chamber in each session
and have the amount they have burnt up drawn together and published
as a running total. MPs who husband their speaking time could
then have much higher expectations of being called when they really
wanted to chip in, and vice versa.
On an informal basis the Speaker and his clerk
already quietly do this. I suggest inviting him to open up the
system. With the flying time approach well established there would
also be far less pressure on the Speaker to try and avoid deviation
from the subject of the debate or filibustering. Few MPs would
want to burn up their flying time in such, generally whips-led,
practices. There would also be another less appreciated benefitdebates
could flow more with the spirit than the letter of "order".
On several occasions in financial debates I have seen MPs called
to order for deviation when the few who really understood the
issue in the chamber knew the points to be very pertinent or,
even if technically on the edge of being in order, nonetheless
Para 12. A proposed batting order
published just before the start of debates would be a huge help.
This should also be available to the press. It should, of course,
be indicative: the Speaker should retain the power not to call
somebody if he scarcely appears in the chamber during the debate
or if the debate took a turn that would merit an alteration to
the batting order;
Paras 29 to 35. I don't strongly
object to these proposals but I am not convinced that further
adjustments to Wednesdays and Fridays would achieve much;
Para 46. A few thoughts on the tabling
for all PQs. The closure date for these should be much closer
to the date for answer. Nor should they have to be tabled on one
particular day but on any reasonable day (say a fortnight) before
Para 50. Written PQs. My only thought
here is to wonder whether the current system would survive an
efficiently functioning Freedom of Information Act. Why go through
the hassle of checking whether a PQ is in order, is worded appropriately
and has not been tabled before when one will be able just to drop
a line to the Minister to which, under FOI rules, the executive
would be required to respond?
24 January 2002