Memorandum from Martin Salter MP and John
Bercow MP (M40)
All MPs experience some time as backbenchers
and for most of us this role will constitute the majority of the
time we spend in the Commons.
The backbench MP has a number of roles including:
Scrutinising and seeking to improve
Speaking up for constituents both
collectively and at times individually.
Pursuing policy interests and debates
of national concern.
Engaging constituents in the democratic
Parliamentary Questions (PQs).
Debates on legislation.
Early Day Motions (EDMs).
Private Members' Bills (PMBs).
MPs have access to the facilities of the House,
including free use of rooms for meetings and the research and
reference services provided by the House of Commons Library. They
can book constituents on tours of Parliament and arrange tickets
for the public galleries.
Time and space to scrutinise legislation
Ability to get subjects debated on
the floor of the Commons in prime time.
Realistic opportunities to promote
Recognition of the growth of constituency
Opportunities for all Members to
have a fair chance of being called to speak.
Career progression for Members and
Training and induction for new Members.
Arcane procedures still unreformed.
New Members have made it clear that
there was too much information and not enough time available to
make best use of the initial training and induction programmes.
Most new Members in 2005 were not allocated offices for at least
six weeksit was even longer for previous intakes. The hot
desking facilities were insufficient.
The following represent some ideas that the
Committee may wish to consider and possibly work up in more detail.
We both endorse the principle of these suggestions but with different
degrees of emphasis in some circumstances.
Abolish Friday sittings, except for
special circumstances, in recognition of constituency work.
End the facility for Members to talk
out Private Members' Bills on a Friday. If the House does not
wish the Bill to proceed, Members should give their reasons and
then vote to prevent its passage. The spectacle of one Member
talking for hours to stop another Member making progress is bad
for the reputation of the House.
Move PMBs to 20 three hour slots
on Tuesday or Wednesday evenings in compensation for the 13 five
hour "lost" Fridays. Raise the number of proposers required
on a Bill from 10 to 50.
If a Member secures, say, 250 signatures
on an EDM with at least 50% from the non-government MPs it qualifies
for a debate and indicative vote in government time.
The 10 minute speech limit to become
the norm unless specified by the Speaker with front bench speeches
limited to 20 minutes and 10 minutes of interventions to allow
more time for backbench contributions.
Priority for Privy Counsellors still
seems to apply in most debates. The Committee might wish to consider
suggesting a refinement of current practice so that more Members
have an opportunity to contribute.
Review the frequency of ritual debates
on the adjournment.
Increased resources for MPs office
costs to take account of regional variations in pay rates and
office rents and to allow Members to reward experienced and long
serving staff with salary increments.
How do we establish a career progression
for MPs beyond serving on their respective front benches? Can
Member training be improved?
Better coordination with the parties
of new Members' induction which needs to take place over a longer
period. Offers of basic training for endorsed parliamentary candidates
and refresher courses for longer serving Members.
Consider a longer period of time
following a general election to allow for the allocation of offices
and a more sensible period for new Member training and induction.
Perhaps some temporary clerical staff could be made available
to assist during the first month or so.
It may be worth having a mechanism
for MPs to expand their skills in other fieldseg a secondment
in a housing association if one wants to improve housing policy.
Open parliament at weekends and allow
groups such as the UKYP to hold the occasional Saturday debate
in the Chamber (the Lords have just agreed to this).
A proper business committee to be
established including backbenchers in its membership to give MPs
a greater say in setting the timetable for parliamentary business.
This would reduce reliance on the "usual channels".
Pre-legislative scrutiny to become
the norm with government being required to explain why they decide
not to publish a bill in draft form.
Debates in Westminster Hall should
also take place on Mondays and there could be merit in shifting
Government Adjournment Debates and/or debates on Select Committee
reports to Monday afternoon, leaving Thursdays free for two hour
topical debates. These should be driven by a democratic procedure,
either chosen by the Business Committee or on the basis of requests
to the Speaker.
Select Committees to be empowered
to insist on the release of government documents and to be able
to table amendments to bills in the name of the Committee.
Select Committees to be able to determine
their own role in the pre-legislative scrutiny process.
In order to bolster both the independence
and the credibility of the Select Committees, the House should
resolve to reconsider the means by which they are constituted.
More timely debates on Select Committee
Reports, wherever possible on the Floor of the House, and with
the opportunity to put key recommendations to a vote? The Select
Committee itself could decide which such recommendations should
It has often been said that better scrutiny
leads to better legislation but without adequate time, space and
resources, coupled with appropriate training, Parliament will
always struggle to hold to account a well-resourced Executive.
We hope that these suggestions are of assistance to the Committee
in seeking to strengthen the role of backbenchers and to make
better use of non-legislative time in the Commons.