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


Letter from Derek Wyatt MP to the Chairman of the Committee

  First of all congratulations on your work so far. It is heading (at last) in the right direction provided of course the Tories play ball and join us in wanting to modernise the House. If they do not they will be seen as the party of the dinosaur and will subsequently lose more seats at the next General Election.

  It seems to me there are two objectives we are trying to fulfil:

    (a)  to better hold an increasingly rampant Executive to account


    (b)  to modernise the practices of the House of Commons.

  They are not mutually exclusive but we need to do more work on a) and maybe that could be the subject of a fuller investigation by your committee in the very near future.

  Let me respond where relevant by paragraph numbers.

    Para 10. We should follow the House of Lords practice and divide the time according to the number of MPs who have requested to speak. The notice of speakers should be published 24 hours before a debate. Those who are not called or who are unable to be present at the debate should be allowed to have a short precis of no more than 150 words of their speech published in Hansard (as they can do in Congress). Presentational and closing speeches should be a maximum of ten minutes.

    Para 15. Question Time has become a ritual. PPSs do the rounds trying to place soft questions. This practice should stop immediately. It demeans Parliament. Questions should be placed on the Order Paper 48 hours beforehand. Questions should be able to submitted electronically.

    Para 17. Planted Questions should be called Statement Questions and they should take place between 10.30am—11.30am before the main business of the House commences at 11.30am. Green and White Papers should have to be submitted to Select Committees for scrutiny.

    Para 32. If a change of hours is anticipated for Wednesday then it makes sense to include Monday and Tuesday as well so we have a uniform week. Those MPs from the outer parts of the UK wanting to speak on Monday QT could always fly down on Sunday evening.

    Para 44. Summer recess should start the third week of July and finish the first week of September. The Conference season is becoming more irrelevant to MPs. Conferences could start the second week of September and be concertinaed into two weeks with the three parties agreeing on dates for the next five years so that they were not always the same pattern. Alternatively, the Conference season could move to April (from 2003). Most elections are held in the summer and an April season would create more media interest.

    I suspect the Conference issues are outside the scope of this report, but currently as far as the Parliamentary calendar is concerned they are a nuisance.

    It makes no sense to come back in early September and then adjourn for three weeks, a mere three weeks later. Better to incorporate the new "reduced two week season" in the first two weeks of September in which case Parliament would come back during the third week of September (earlier if the Conferences were moved to April).

    Paras 49, 50, 52, 54, 55 and 56. Select Committees need to be independent of the Whips Office. Committee chairmen should be paid a Secretary of State's salary and members should be paid a junior minister's salary. The clerking system will need to be modified to give members more assistance. No chairman should be able to serve more than one full term. No member should serve more than two terms. The committees should be selected by all members. Members seeking selection should be able to provide a 50 word CV and the opportunity to speak for five minutes in the Chamber. Three days should be put aside for elections to committees. Select Committees would meet at least twice a week—more when scrutinising pre legislative bills.

    There is no internet strategy for the House that accords with the practice of Government departments.

  I would suggest:

    Every committee room to be upgraded to take live Internet coverage of Select Committees, Committee Stages for Bills and Statutory Instruments.

    Every Select Committee to receive evidence by disk and for that evidence to be placed on its web site as soon as possible thereafter.

    For Select Committees to consider scanning photographs, audio and video clips for their reports when placed on their Internet sites.

    For all Select Committee web sites to include the real time audio or video coverage as a given.

    By September 2003 all Select Committee reports to be published only on the net.

  Para 57. We need a Parliamentary Museum and Art Gallery as a permanent fixture. There are five possible sites—the space to the side and east of the Speaker's residence currently occupied by portakabins, the Victoria Gardens, the Green where many television interviews take place, the Tower and the middle of Parliament Square. I would suggest a committee is established under the Speaker's aegis to evaluate these sites and bring forward proposals.

  We need to give The Speaker more authority. He should be able to issue yellow and red cards to Secretaries of State who deliberately leak information, circumnavigate the House or fail to come and make the appropriate Statement. A yellow or red card system would apply to each "session" of Parliament. If a Secretary of State received a red card, he would be suspended by the House without pay for a minimum of one month.

  We also need to be able to question the Executive when in recess and we could do this be means of the Internet-based Order Paper.

  Finally we must be able to find a device whereby MPs can recall Parliament when there is a State of Emergency declared or a matter of seriousness. The Government was most reluctant to recall Parliament after 11 September 2001. Even when it did, on 14 September it conspired to reduce the value of the recall by restricting the time to 0930—1430.

29 January 2002

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