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4 Feb 2003 : Column 145—continued

PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL

The President of the Council was asked—

House of Lords Reform

31. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): To ask the President of the Council what steps he is taking to reduce the size of the House of Lords. [95356]

The President of the Council (Mr. Robin Cook): In the recent debate on the report of the Joint Committee, a number of Members expressed concern that the recommendation of the Joint Committee for a second Chamber of 600 was too big. I hope the Joint Committee will listen to those concerns before bringing forward detailed proposals.

Helen Jackson : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Joint Committee has ducked the main issue? The fact is that there are far too many people at the other end of this building trying to form a serious revising Chamber, and they are there until the day they die. Will he ensure that when his proposals for a serious second Chamber are made in conjunction with the Joint Committee, that Chamber will be no more than 200 in size?

Mr. Cook: I agree very much with the concern expressed by my hon. Friend. In my speech to the House two weeks ago, I expressed my concern at proposals for a second Chamber that would be as large as the House of Commons. No second Chamber anywhere else in the world is as large as our second Chamber. As for the number of Members, only five second Chambers in the democratic world have more than 200 Members. All the others are smaller.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that no other Chamber, first or second, anywhere in the world is more cost-effective and has more expertise at its disposal?

Mr. Cook: I thought that the hon. Gentleman was about to describe the House of Commons as such and of course, as Leader of the House of Commons, I would totally concur that it is pre-eminent in that regard, as in others. On the cost of a second Chamber, he raises an important and relevant point. If we want a cost-effective second Chamber, we need a small second Chamber.

HOUSE OF COMMONS COMMISSION

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Congestion Charge

32. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, if he will provide

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pay point facilities for hon. Members to make congestion charge payments on the parliamentary estate. [95357]

Sir Archy Kirkwood (on behalf of the House of Commons Commission): Following my reply to the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir Brian Mawhinney) on 27 January, I am pleased to say that a congestion charge pay point will be installed by Transport for London next to the cash machines on the ground floor.

Michael Fabricant : That is reassuring for people like myself who are not telephonically challenged and will use a cell phone to send SMS messages to pay congestion charges, and of course for Ministers who are exempt and can swan around central London to their heart's content without paying any congestion charge. However, for all others, will the facility be ready by 17 February?

Sir Archy Kirkwood: All efforts are being bent to that end. I cannot guarantee that, but we are doing the best that we can to have the pay point installed as soon as Transport for London can manage it. On who is liable to pay the charges, I remind the House that your guidance through the Fees Office, Mr. Speaker, is that Members will not be able to use public funds through their incidental office expenses for such a purpose. What happens to Ministers is mercifully nothing whatever to do with me.

PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL

The President of the Council was asked—

Statements

33. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): To ask the President of the Council what plans the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons has to recommend the introduction of hon. Members' statements along the line of those in the Canadian Parliament. [95358]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): None.

Paul Flynn : Does not the fact that Members have an opportunity to raise matters of urgent importance only in business questions and as points of order, many of which are bogus, prove that we need some system such as that in the Canadian Parliament, whereby for a quarter of an hour every day Members have a minute each to raise such points? If the system works splendidly in the Canadian Parliament, why can we not have it here?

Mr. Bradshaw: My hon. Friend is perfectly entitled to make such representations to the Modernisation Committee. Back Benchers have good opportunities in this place to make their views known. I am not sure that, given that this place is supposed to be about scrutinising Ministers and getting them to respond, allowing a simple statement to be made or printed in Hansard is necessarily the best way of improving Back-Bench engagement.

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Points of Order

12.31 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has it been brought to your attention that, in a lead letter to The Times this morning, a statement from a Member of the other place—a Liberal Democrat spokesman, no less—says:


Some of us may think that that is rather near the bone. Is that possibly because we are spending the rest of the day wittering away about the House of Lords, which could have been done at any time in the past 100 years, rather than discussing a motorway without exit to war?

I draw your attention in particular to the answer given yesterday to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) by the Prime Minister, who said:


The second item on the World Service this morning was that the international agencies would refuse to give any aid whatever in the event of a war brought about by America and Britain. In those circumstances, ought not that to take precedence over a discussion on the House of Lords?

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that I had better answer the Father of the House's question first, because it was so long I shall forget what he asked.

I do not know about anyone down the Corridor. All I would say is that that noble Lord is entitled to his opinion. If that is his opinion, he is misinformed. The hon. Gentleman is raising through a point of order matters that are really for debate, not for the Chair—and he knows that. That is the best thing that I can say to him.

Mr. Kaufman: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you explain why my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has become so desperate that he quoted a Liberal Democrat peer as some kind of biblical reference?

Mr. Speaker: I will not get into that territory.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As a result of last week's breakdown of the General Affairs Council in Brussels, I tabled several urgent questions to both the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary about the possible arrival on these shores of Robert Mugabe. Several of my questions referred to last Thursday's EU ambassadors'

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meeting to which the buck was passed. Bearing in mind the urgency of the matter—the sanctions regime expires on 18 February—could you provide me with some advice on how I get my answers from the Foreign Office and the Home Office before it is too late?

Mr. Speaker: Perhaps the hon. Lady was not in the Chamber yesterday when a similar matter was raised. She should get on to the Minister concerned; get on the phone and ask him why those questions are not being answered. That is the first thing to do.

Angus Robertson (Moray): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have given previous notice to your office of a matter concerning last night's debate on the European Parliament (Representation) Bill. In that debate, I spoke in favour of amendments Nos. 2 to 7. The debate on those amendments should have been reported in column 82 of today's Hansard, but there is no record whatever of its having taken place. Similarly, there is no record of the House having divided on those amendments. Will you confirm that the debate in which those amendments were discussed did not take place in camera, nor was the vote secret? In your experience, can you remember Hansard not reporting a complete debate on an amendment before the House—or, indeed, a vote? What efforts can hon. Members make to ensure that we, our constituents and the media can see, read and hear what goes on in the House through the medium of Hansard, and can understand which Members voted in favour of an unprecedented cut in Scottish representation in the European Parliament?


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