Letter from the Rt Hon Gerald Kaufman
MP to the Chairman of the Committee
I have read with care the memorandum in your
name submitted to the Modernisation Committee. While there are
parts of the memorandum I support, others are likely to continue
the process of turning the House of Commons into a characterless
In particular I oppose vehemently paragraphs
10 to 12. House of Commons debates ought not to take place in
order to allow as many MPs as possible to make brief speeches
to which no-one listens except those in the queue to make the
next speeches. Parliamentary debate ought to have a role in affecting
and changing policy. Under the kind of regime you propose, Winston
Churchill would never have had the scope to rouse the Commons
and the nation against the Nazis, Fascists and appeasement; his
speeches would have been interrupted by the Speaker with a reminder
that his time had been reached. Without those great speeches he
would not have become Prime Minister and saved the nation.
The same applies to Aneurin Bevan's speeches
criticising Churchill's wartime strategy (which led Churchill
to describe Bevan as a "squalid nuisance") and to the
biting attack on Bevan by Iain Macleod which led to Macleod's
appointment as Minister of Health straight from the backbenches.
There are occasions when a case needs time to be developed. You
would not have been able to achieve your own deserved reputation
as a fine debater in the circumstances you propose.
Publishing lists of speakers in advance would
end any semblance of real debate and would mean that only those
on the list would be certain to turn up. Attendances in the House
for major debates have shrivelled in the past quarter of a century,
due in large part to the practice of application to be put on
the Speaker's list. Quality of speeches has deteriorated further
ever since time limiting was imposed. Your proposal of Readers
Digest style debates would kill off any remaining interest in
parliamentary debate, as well as killing off debate itself.
My views will be written off as those of any
antediluvian, who wishes to remove from MPs the right to read
out those boring little essays which already comprise far too
many Commons speeches.
No doubt, too, my opposition to the spread of
constituency Fridays will be written off by the new-style Labour
(and Liberal Democrat) MPs. I can assure you that there will be
an adverse reaction in the country, most of whose working population
have no power to decide their own working schedules, at what would
be regarded as lazy MPs giving themselves a four-day week. It
would be no good pointing out that the hours would be the same.
The four-day week MP, with massive financial perks to be calculated
by hostile newspapers, would encourage more disenchantment with
the Commons and provoke an even lower voter turnout at the next
Sorry to be so negative, but you did ask for
responses from Members.
18 December 2002