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Mr. Hain: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for my statement on the sitting hours. He requests prompt action, and I am concerned about the aggravation caused by early sitting times and other issuesincluding the fact that hon. Members have not been able to bring constituents into the Chamber after the House has risen in the sometimes relatively early evening, and the fact that Members with constituencies well outside London, such as myself, have not been able to bring constituents to the House for line of route tours in the same numbers as before because they cannot get here early enough. I am in discussion with the House authorities to see what progress we can make promptly.
On the question of the Modernisation Committee's timing, the hon. Gentleman will knowas a member of the Committeethat we are engaged in an important exercise to discover how Westminster can be better connected to the average citizen, so that they can feel that the House of Commons reflects their views.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): What does that mean?
Mr. Hain: The right hon. Gentleman sneers at that, but I see it as my responsibility as Leader of the House to ensure that the Commons is better connected to the democratic wishes of voters. That exercise will go on for
The hon. Gentleman asked about the Traffic Management Bill. I am curious about his question on that point, because the start date and the number of sittings were agreed through the usual channels and I understand that no further representations have been made by the Conservatives or anyone else through the usual channels. It is, therefore, a source of concern to me that the hon. Gentleman has raised the matter, and I am sure that the Whips will want to consider any points that are made in the normal way, through the usual channels.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the Hutton report, and I have made the situation perfectly clear. I agree that civil servants must be treated fairlyI am in absolute agreement with the hon. Gentleman on that point. But let us take one step at a time. As I made clear well before Christmas, the Prime Minister will come to the House on the day that the report is published; he will answer questions and, as he said yesterday, he will be willing to be cross-examined on all the issues, including those raised by the hon. Gentleman. That is the proper way to proceed. Subject to the decisions made by Mr. Speaker on how long the Prime Minister's statement will run, there will be an opportunity for as many Members as possible to put their point of view and to hold the Prime Minister to account following the publication of the Hutton report.
My job is to ensure that the House can discuss accountability and all the issues involved in a proper way. When the report is published, I shall keep the House informed about exactly when the subsequent debate will take place and how it will be structured.
On the question of the constitutional Bills, of course the Bill on reform of the House of Lords will be heard on the Floor. That is the proper way to discuss that matter and I shall be happy to receive representations about the detail of it from the shadow Leader of the House.
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): May I assure the Leader of the House that we at least think that the central role of the House of Commons and Parliament generally in debating the affairs of the nation is critical, and that the re-engaging the electors in that process is extremely important? In that context, can he give us some reassurance?
As Leader of the House he is, we would hope, the primary champion for the rights of the House. Can he give us an absolute undertaking that when the Hutton
On the sitting hours, I agree with the Leader of the House that it is extremely important that those who send us here should have an input in the process.
Mr. Tyler: The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to think that it matters whether the electors know what is happening in the House. Well, I do and I believe that it is extremely important that, for example, broadcasters have at their disposal, in the evening, the main decisions of the House. At present, the Government have a large majority, but important debates and Divisions could be taking placeperhaps in the near futurethat should be communicated to those who send us here. Is it not important that those who send us here know what is happening in the House of Commons and can see it at a reasonable hour? Will the Leader of the House give us an undertaking that the Modernisation Committee will take evidence from those whom we represent, as well as from Members and those who communicate with us?
Mr. Hain: I welcome the hon. Gentleman's definition of my role as the primary champion of the rights of the House. That is the way that I see my role and that is how I try to carry it out.
The hon. Gentleman made important points about the Hutton report. As he implied, those matters are for Lord Hutton. Neither my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister nor I, in my role as Leader of the House, have been informed when the Hutton report will be published. We do not yet know that. I shall draw to Lord Hutton's attention the points that the hon. Gentleman made. The decision on who receives what first, in respect of the media and the House, is not in the hands of the Government, but I am sure that Lord Hutton will want to take careful note of the points that he made. I am equally sure that the hon. Gentleman is not accusing Lord Hutton of spin; the matter is not for the Government, but for Lord Hutton and his secretariat.
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman's last point: electors matter. They send us here and hold us accountable at general elections. It is imperative that we address how electors feel about what we do in the House, the way that we do it and the access that we give them, including better online access. We should not simply be preoccupied with contemplating our own navels and our own internal procedures. We should also
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. May I just tell the House that we have a very congested agenda before us today? There is an important statement to come, and there is a great deal of interest among hon. Members in the Bill that will follow. I am not sure whether I will be able to call every hon. Member who is trying to catch my eye during business questions, but I appeal for brevity, and I will do my best in those circumstances.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House both on the decision he has reached and on the open-minded way in which he has approached this subject? May I assure him that, contrary to some press reports, those of us who have been campaigning for a review have been doing so not with a wish to turn back the clockthat can never happenbut to arrive at a sensible way in which the business of the House can be conducted? Indeed, does he agree that that is precisely what our constituents would expect? Finally, may I suggest that, if he continues to proceed in the manner that he has described, we can reach a consensus, which, even if it does not please everyone, will content most hon. Members about how we conduct our business?
Mr. Hain: I very much welcome and agree with what my hon. Friend says. I interpreted the motion as a call for a review, not for a reversal, and between the position that he enunciates and those who, like me, voted for the arrangements governing the existing hours, it is possible to find a new consensus that meets all people's concerns.