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


Letter from Mr Andrew Turner MP to the Clerk of the Committee

  I have the following comments on Robin Cook's report Modernisation Of The House of Commons: A Reform Programme For Consultation. The paragraph numbers quoted are those in the report.

  8.  The provision for Deferred Divisions has certainly widened the opportunities for Members to take part, but that benefit is not outweighed by the disadvantage that they are less well informed about the issues on which they are voting.

  Programming bills may have made the hours of scrutiny more predictable, enabling the House to focus on the main issues for debate, but any further reform should address the problem of some parts of measures remaining un-debated.

  11.  If front-benchers still take 45 minutes plus each during debates, then the opportunity for proper debate will remain limited.

  13.  The use of PNQs already provides the opportunity for members to ask a "topical" and more incisive question at very short notice; perhaps two or three a day should be taken.

  31.  The new working hours on Thursday have been a success primarily because members like to get home to the constituency on a Friday. That is of course not the case on Wednesdays.

  32.  Introducing morning starts to the parliamentary day on Wednesday may well help Members with families and constituencies accessible from London, however it is of no benefit to the overwhelming majority who would be unable to get home. If however it were introduced it consideration could be given to using evenings for Private Members Bills. On balance though I would prefer that the current hours were kept so that visitors can attend questions from as many parts as possible of the kingdom without an overnight stay in London.

  37.  Alternatively (or additionally) statement time could be added on to the end of any day's sitting thereby meaning that any requirement for statements to be made would have no effect on the time available for debates. 1.30 pm is not a very good time to start statements as many Members may already have engagements at that time.

  39.  No mention is made as to when an "Immediate Statement" would be made, more details should be provided on this issue. I believe these can already take place at 7 o'clock.

  44.  Any change in the Parliamentary calendar should take into account the very valuable opportunity MPs have in being able to visit schools within their constituency.

  46.  The traditional method of voting is a valuable opportunity for back-bench MPs to take the opportunity of meeting Ministers and Shadow Ministers to discuss important issues of concern, and I see no need to move quickly to a new method for the sake of modernity.

  47.  If you have to attend in person, there is no advantage in voting electronically. Furthermore there is a lack of transparency in that members cannot see what is going on—this is why electronic voting may be widely distrusted.

  48.  I believe the views of the House still favour the continuance of the present system. A compromise solution would be to reduce the time for second and subsequent divisions to 3 minutes.

  50.  Being able to table oral questions electronically means that Members could conceivably not attend Parliament for days on end, which is not something to be welcomed.

  54.  The possibility should certainly examine how it can widen coverage of Parliament, and should push forward plans for the release of written answers earlier in the day.

  55.  Any move to change the way that Select Committee reports are presented should be resisted. The work done in committees indeed provides a wide range of substance, which is why there is no need to change the way in which it is presented. The publications are read for their content, as opposed to the way they are presented.

  56.  Any initiative such as whereby live coverage of public committee sittings are available through the internet is to be welcomed.

  58.  It is not the role of the educational service to invite schoolchildren to Parliament as part of a pro-active education campaign. That function should remain with individual Members.

14 February 2002

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