Memorandum from Sir Patrick Cormack MP
The balance of the backbencher's life has been
tilted too far towards the constituency role, and away from Westminster
duties. Whilst I understand the pressures of constituency work
(and my own case load has increased 10 fold in my time here)I
often recall the words of Duncan Sandys when he was criticised
for not being present in his (London) constituency more often:
"I am the Member of Parliament for Streatham in Westminster,
not the Member for Westminster in Streatham".
I welcomed the Jopling proposals but post-Jopling
changes to the parliamentary timetable mean that some constituents
now expect the Member to be in his constituency on Thursdays.
I have been able to resist these demands but many Members with
tiny majorities have not felt able to do so, and the consequence
for parliament has been a very negative one.
This is by way of background to some proposals
that I would like the Committee to consider.
1. I agree very strongly that there should
be an induction to parliament. This should take place between
the election and the State Opening, even if that means delaying
the latter by a day or two. Parties should make it plain that
they consider the induction course the equivalent of Three Line
business. Experienced Members and officials of the House should
explain the procedures in detail, and how best to take advantage
of the opportunities offered by the parliamentary timetable.
2. As the next election is possibly more
than three years ahead a series of seminars should be arranged
later this year. Clearly these cannot be regarded as Three Line
business, two years after an election, but Members should be encouraged
to attend, possibly on some of the Fridays set aside for Private
Members' business so that attendance at the seminars would not
get in the way of other commitments.
3. The Modernisation Committee should look
very carefully at the parliamentary timetable. No Member should
be expected to be in two places at once. Westminster Hall should
not be in session at the same time as the Chamber and Select Committees
should be encouraged to do everything possible to avoid clashing
with prime Chamber time. There may be something to be said for
the House itself not sitting after Question Time on Monday and
for Select Committees sitting after that. It follows from this
that Thursday would become an important parliamentary day. An
alternative would be to devote Thursday afternoons to Select Committees
or to ask all Select Committees to sit on Tuesday mornings. It
also follows that no Member should be allowed to serve on more
than one Select Committee.
4. In order to encourage attendance in the
Chamber consultations should be held with Mr Speaker to see whether
he would be willing to make it plain that he would only contemplate
calling Members to speak in debate if they undertook to be present,
not merely for the opening and closing speeches, but for most
of the debate itself.
5. The general public, however unwittingly,
are sometimes deceived into thinking that All Party Groups and
Early Day Motions are more important than they are. It is far
too easy to set up the former and to put down the latter. I would
urge that the Modernisation Committee, in conjunction with the
Procedure Committee, look carefully at the rules governing both
All Party Groups and EDMs.
6. Another issue that should be looked at
is the Parliamentary Question. This is a currency that has been
grossly devalued by the vast number of questions put down, often
by Research Assistants. The cost is great and the light generated