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Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate as soon as we return from the Christmas recess on the suggestion made by the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs that further reform of the House of Lords, incorporating an elected element, may now be on the agenda? Does my right hon. Friend agree that an early
Mr. Hain: I cannot promise my hon. Friend an early debate, but he is of course free to apply for one. However, I can confirm that the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs said the following in The Independent of 15 December:
[That this House congratulates the research team at The Open University led by Professor Colin Pillinger for their outstanding work on the Beagle 2 project which is scheduled to touch down on Mars on Christmas Day; notes that because this work was conducted in an open access institution, the research underpinning this project will bring benefit to far more students from a wider spectrum of backgrounds and in far quicker time than if it was conducted in a traditional selective-entry university; and calls on the Government to ensure that the special nature of The Open University and the unique access to excellence it provides should be recognised when considering research funding allocation in the future.]
Will he draw to his colleagues' attention the need to capitalise on this British success story, which is based on academic research and industry working in partnership, and to ensure that we get more science graduates from universities?
Mr. Hain: I am happy to join my hon. FriendI know that he has a constituency interest in this matterand the whole House in congratulating Professor Pillinger and his team. The Beagle 2 project is very impressive, and the Open university makes a unique contribution to teaching and research. Current Government funding stands at £136 million for teaching and £5.6 million for researchan indication of our confidence in the Open university's role.
[That this House congratulates Paul Martin, the new Prime Minister of Canada, on his decision to make democratic reform of the House of Commons a top priority; notes that the reforms are designed to strengthen the roles of individual parliamentarians and committees with an increased number of free votes; further notes that Ministers will be required actively to seek the support of their colleagues who are to be involved early in the policy development process; contrasts this approach to the way in which key policy initiatives are brought forward at Westminster; and urges the British Prime Minister to visit his counterpart's website http://wwwl.pm.gc.ca/eng/demreform.asp for insights and inspiration.]
Really innovative things are happening in our sister Parliament in Ottawa, where Government Back Benchers are being involved in policy development at an early stage, and matters are not being sprung on them. As a result, there will be a greater number of free votes. He should look seriously at what is happening there.
Mr. Hain: I would certainly be happy to look at the Canadian experience. Indeed, the Modernisation Committee's current project, to which I referred earlier, concerns how we are to reconnect Parliament to the peoplean issue that should concern us on a cross-party basis.
I hope that the excellent presentations by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills are persuading my hon. Friend of the Government's policy on top-up fees. Of course, a number of free votes are allowed in the House by custom and practice. I am sure that he will also praise the Government for introducing pre-legislative scrutiny;
Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): On sitting hours, I should point out to my right hon. Friend that Members of this place have always had to be in two places at once, and that it may just be that the silent majoritywhich includes mefeel that the current hours are working well. On visits to this House and London Members, his suggestions are very acceptable, but will he investigate the question of the closing of the doors of this Chamber? I brought constituents to the House on Monday evening, but because it got up early the Chamber was closed, even though the refreshment rooms were still open. Does he think that appropriate, or does he agree with me that if London Members are to be helpful in this regard, we should be able to bring our constituents into the Chamber at their convenience, in the evening?
Mr. Hain: I am concerned to hear that that was my hon. Friend's experience on Monday. Several Members have raised this issue with me; indeed, I referred to it recently during business questions. I had thought that, as a result, the authorities had made it common practice to leave the Chamber open in the evening for a time, so that Members representing constituencies throughout the countrynot just London onescould bring in their guests. It is an experience that constituents enjoy.
I welcome what my hon. Friend said about hours. A substantial number of Members are very satisfied with the broad parameters of the current hours settlement, for which I myself voted. There is no clear agreement that I have been able to discern so far; indeed, the early-day motion referred to earlier calls not for a specific alternative, but for a review, which is precisely what the Modernisation Committee will undertake. We would be very unwise to accept any demand simply to rush into a reversion to the old hours. The original hours gave rise to a lot of complaints, and as my hon. Friend says, Members have always had to be in more than one place at one time, given the busy lives that we lead.
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I bring to your attention Division No. 16, at column 1674 of yesterday's Hansard? I am recorded as having voted in both the Aye Lobby and the No Lobby. I must confess that there have been occasions since coming to this place when I felt as if I were going round in circles. However, I never expected that to be recorded, particularly given that on this occasion, I am certain that I voted in the No Lobby only. I furthermore note that a number of Labour colleagues, including three Ministers and a Whip, have been recorded as having voted in both the Aye Lobby and the No Lobby. May I ask that the matter be investigated and an accurate record be presented, not least in the interest of ministerial longevity? Perhaps we should also investigate whether the proximity to Christmas and its festivities has impacted on the operational effectiveness of our recording and printing processes.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): The hon. Gentleman is quite right to raise this matter with the Chair. Several Members have been wrongly recorded in Hansard as having voted for the reasoned amendment on Second Reading of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants Etc.) Bill yesterday. A corrected Division list has now been placed in the Vote Office, and the result of the Division will be reprinted in Hansard this evening. The incident will be fully investigated. I regret that embarrassment may have been caused to those right hon. and hon. Members affected by this error.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 114 (Northern Ireland Grand Committee (legislative proposals and other matters relating exclusively to Northern Ireland)) and 116 (Northern Ireland Grand Committee (sittings))