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Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) (Lab/Co-op): I think that I am one of the few people to speak in the debate with a young family, so I suffer from such stress. As has been said before, what is family friendly for those who live in London is not family friendly for those who live a long way from London.
If we were to move towards a situation in which we had very family-friendly hours for those who live in Londonmore so than they are nowit could make the House more representative in one way, but it would become less representative geographically. Such very family-friendly hours would make it more likely that Members with families would locate to and live in London, whatever constituency they represented.
I do not think that there is conflict between family-friendly hours in the House for Members who live in London and those who live away from London. A main driver for Members who live away from London must be starting late on a Monday so that they can travel here easily on a Monday morning, and finishing early on a Thursday afternoon so that they can get back to their constituencies on a Thursday evening. The Modernisation Committee's proposals achieve exactly that. They give us an optimum time period in which we can satisfy the needs of both
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Members who live outside London and those who live in London. There is not necessarily a conflict between the two.
We now know about the use of the telephone by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and the modern technology that he has perhaps espoused for some time, although I am not sure. I, too, use the telephone to contact my constituents, but I find that they are much more likely to be available in the evening than during the day. That means that there is an argument for Members being free in the evening so that they can use that time to contact constituents, rather than attending debates in the Chamber or Select Committee sittings.
I turn to the matter of reconnecting people with Parliament. The all-party group on parliamentary reform, which I chair, recently sent out a notice to hon. Members about a meeting that we are holding in March. We are asking them to invite two young people from their constituencies to come to Westminster one day in Marchon 2 March, I thinkto debate with hon. Members the Modernisation Committee's proposals in "Connecting Parliament with the Public". The event will be important, so I hope that hon. Members will take advantage of it. It presents an opportunity to get young people here so that they can see how Parliament operates and engage in real debate. I am delighted that the Leader of the House has agreed to participate in the event, because his presence will allow young people to feel that it is as important as it is.
I hope that we will decide to keep the current hours. Two years is a short time in which to arrive at a definitive decision on whether to return to the old hours, so I hope that hon. Members will vote to keep the new hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and to adopt the earlier hour on Thursdays.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I have been worried right from the start of this so-called modernisation process that it only ever seems to move the relationship between the House and the Government in one direction, which can be summed up by the word "convenience". Everything that the Modernisation Committee has asked us to do can easily and readily be seen as convenient for Members and, even more importantly, for the Government. That has radically, and perhaps irrevocably, altered the relationship between the Government and the House of Commons. I regret that, because it is bad constitutionally and bad for Parliament. Although I would like the situation to be reversed, I do not know whether that will happen.
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) argued that the change back to the old hours on Tuesdays should be made because the new
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arrangements are inconvenient to colleagues? He is directly contradicting the case made from his Front Benchnot for the first time.
Let us consider public perceptions of what we do here. I think that we are saying to the public, "We want what is convenient to us, because some of us found it rather unacceptable to be working into the evenings and we really want to go off to the cinema in the evenings rather than doing our parliamentary work". Given that and the fact that the Government have such tight control over the guillotining of Committees and the work that we domany debates and votes on such things as money and Ways and Means resolutions that were held before have been entirely eliminatedwe are being taken in only one direction. The motion represents yet another such movement. It might not be especially important in itself, but it is part of a general move that Members themselves have made to say, "We do not want to be inconvenienced; we want to do what is comfortable". Of course the Government benefit from that, which is a negative factor.
It is ironic to compare what we do and how we do it with the situation in the House of Lords. It is now true to say that their lordships meet more often and sit longer than us, and it is generally accepted that the quality of their scrutiny of legislation and work to hold the Government to account is far superior to anything that we do here.
Joan Ruddock : The right hon. Gentleman is not comparing like with like. We elected Members have a duty to our constituents, and a great deal of time has to be devoted to that. So there is no comparison with the amount of time that can be spent in the Chambers.
Mr. Forth: Of course that is true. However, I hope that the hon. Lady recognises that, as elected Members, our primary duty is here in the House. In the hon. Lady's case, she is here to support the Government but hold them to accountin my case, I am here to oppose the Government and hold them to accountand to legislate. What we do for our constituents we do in our different ways, and that is right and proper. For the hon. Lady to suggest that her constituents, in some mysterious way, should come before her work at Westminster strikes me as a rather odd interpretation of her duties. I would not accept that as a conclusion.
If we accept the propositionI hope that most Members will do sothat their lordships now do more valuable parliamentary work than we do, that must, at least in some way, be because the Government have less control over what happens in the House of Lords and because their lordships sit during the hours that they believe are appropriate for doing their job as parliamentarians.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con):
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the essential difference when it comes to the scrutiny of legislation is that in the House of Lords there are no
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timetables and no guillotines, whereas in this place a guillotine is uniformly imposedfor example, on Monday, when we considered the Gambling Bill, the Government provided four and a half hours on the Floor of the House.
Mr. Forth: I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. If he wanted to, he could tempt me into saying that perhaps we would do a better job if, as in the good old days, every Bill were considered in Committee on the Floor of the House. That would have the valuable effect of slowing down the progress of legislation, which I am sure we would all consider to be highly beneficial.
The problem with the Parliament-office block analysis that we are being offered more and more by the so-called "modernisers" is the implication that underlies it, which is that we are here to process legislation as quickly and conveniently as possible. For a legislating Government, that is manna from heaven, but it does not make parliamentary sense.
I admire colleagues who tell me that their constituents are hanging on our every word and gazing laser-like upon what we do in this place. Admire my constituents as I do, few of them spend much time talking to me about the hours that the House of Commons works, or the way in which it is structured. They prefer to trust me and to leave that to me, and they are right to do so.
If we are talking about perceptions, we must be careful about the analysis. That leads me to say a few words about nonsensical motion 3, under the heading "Connecting Parliament with the Public". It contains a lot of vacuous and gratuitous nonsense. It is self-serving, self-delusional and rather sad. At the very same time that many Members have complained that because of the changes we have made, which we are now discussing, our constituents have fewer opportunities to come to the House, we produce nonsense about parliamentary roadshows, which would involve some nonsensical bus puffing out what we do to a hapless public, as if that would make them any more impressed with what we do.
I asked the Leader of the House earlier whether he thought that the much-vaunted euro roadshow, on which huge amounts of public money were spent a short time ago, would be an exemplar for what the parliamentary roadshow will do. He was unable to give an answer. We know well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this is another boondoggle, another piece of nonsense and something that will cost a lot of money and have no effect.
If we want to be serious about a new voters' guide, I would want it to be linked backthis is something that the House will hardly ever hear me say but I will say it this once; it is a novelty and I offer it for what it is worthto the website so that young people who come to our website could access the guide without it being printed, distributed and put through letterboxes, only to be put in waste bins throughout the land. The proactivity that is mentioned in the next ridiculous line
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of this absurd motion would not be by us at taxpayers' expense but by the voters or the young people, if they wanted to access information about us and what we do. Why do we not turn the proposal on its head and save the hapless taxpayer some money, so he or she is not asked to spend money on a guide that they will almost certainly never read?
I hope that I will have an opportunity to vote against the motion. It rather pathetically exemplifies how we look through the wrong end of the telescope when we engage in this sort of exercise over and again. We talk at great length about the hours that we work and the perceptions that people have. We regret that the public take less and less interest in what we do, and then we wonder why that may be.
I would offer as a simple solution the fact that what we say is often desperately boring and uninteresting. What we do in the Chamber is often so consensual these days that people cannot tell the difference between any of us. As for whether they should turn up for the next election to vote, I suspect that that will be determined by people's perceptions of whether what we are offering is of relevance to them, whether they have a real choice and whether they think that the outcome of the next election is so obvious and pre-determined that their turning out will make no difference.
Those are entirely different matters from the hours that we work or people thinking that if we work late into the night we are all slightly potty and not worth voting for. My analysis would be completely at odds with what we have been offered up to now. I shall vote for a restoration of the Tuesday hours, which would be a small step in signalling that the House wishes to take more seriously its responsibilities vis-à-vis the Government. I expect no more than that.
I will not vote, sadly, for the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe), because it, too, suggests that we believe that the proceedings of the House should be compromised, in this case, so that people can catch their train or aeroplane to go home, which is utterly the wrong message to give. We should tell people that we are prepared to work in Parliament as long as necessary to do our job properly. If that causes us the odd inconvenience, we should be prepared to accept it.
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