Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 183-199)


18 APRIL 2007

  Q183 Chairman: Sir Alan, Mr Doig, thank you very much for your attendance, and particularly, Sir Alan, thank you for the memorandum that you submitted. We have forty minutes. If it is satisfactory to you, since you have presented such a comprehensive memorandum, can we follow the order of the topics that you raise in your memorandum? Is there anything you wanted to say by way of introduction?

  Sir Alan Haselhurst: Perhaps more at the end. If we have not had time to cover the points in sequence, I would rather hear the questions and then try and satisfy those before making any additional remarks.

  Chairman: The first substantive item you dealt with in your evidence is induction of new Members. I think it is pretty uncontroversial, but although things have greatly improved we have to do a lot more and not overload the process right at the beginning of a parliament, and try to bring a better connection between what Parliament is doing and what the parties are doing.

  Q184  Sir Peter Soulsby: In your very helpful memorandum you talk about having been introduced by the Conservative Chief Whip, when you first arrived, and the role that the party took. Can we reflect on the balance between the responsibilities of the parties and the Whips in particular, and the House authorities in this respect? Who should do what?

  Sir Alan Haselhurst: I think that the party Whips can help Members in terms of procedure and getting to know the place, centred on the Chamber and the committee work that they might do, and give them some sense of how to do the basics, as it were. We were told: How to write to a minister. Not everyone who comes here knows exactly what the procedures will be and the ways in which they will make their representations on behalf of constituents. It was material of this kind that was conveyed in a one-off session, which, I have to say, made a big impression on me and has stayed with me throughout my time. All the other features of the House, for example how you book a room or organise tours, and the rights and wrongs in terms of Members' interests, needs to be given to Members, perhaps not all at once in a type of freshers' week approach. I think it is too much to digest. If I may add, having read some of the evidence that you have already received on this, I rather revised my view, in a sense. I think a very good point is made about the gap between the general election and the summoning of Parliament. In 1970, which was my first experience, it was eleven days. I think that that ought to be the kind of period at least, if not even more generous than that, because a new government, even if it is of the same party, may equally value a little bit of time for ministers to settle in and make their plans. That is particularly true if there is a change of government. It seems to me that the most important thing that could happen in that time is settling accommodation. It is absolutely ridiculous that Members should be wandering around like refugees in this building for weeks afterwards. The most essential thing they need is an office and a phone so that they can start to get to work in appointing a secretary and staff. If they have that comfort, they are then in a position to learn a little more about some of the situations that they will encounter.

  Sir Peter Soulsby: I would just comment that I think while many Members have agreed that some things have improved over the years, the experience of a new Member in this particular respect has not.

  Chairman: You make reference on induction to using the Chamber as a means of inducting people. I think that we do things far too quickly in this country, and taking a breath is not a bad idea sometimes; and a longer period between the general election and when Parliament meets would enable that to happen.

  Q185  Mrs May: Can I pursue beyond induction, Sir Alan, to the question of continuous professional development because as MPs we come here and try to learn the practices of the House, and then we have very little opportunity for further professional development in any sense. Would you like to comment on whether you feel there is a need for top-up sessions carrying on into MPs' careers about the House but also possible development in other areas for them so that they can make their representations in the best way and have a greater knowledge of certain topics?

  Sir Alan Haselhurst: I think the thing to remember is that there is no stereotype for a Member of Parliament; we are all extremely different animals, and we pursue different interests in different ways. We will always have a different formula for the way in which we spend our week or our year, according to our interests and what we believe are the right things we should be doing. I think that in so far as the facilities of the House are concerned, it might be helpful if there were periodic opportunities to refresh. The Library does send out reminders from time to time, and I think that other departments could do that, to say, "there will be a session"—at six-monthly intervals or whatever is appropriate, and if a Member needed to know more about something, they could go and enlist for it. In terms of trying to develop one's other strengths, let us say developing a specialism in housing, I am not sure. I looked at the evidence that has been presented, and I am not sure that one needs special arrangements whether through the IPT or anything of that kind. Surely, we are all sensible people, and if we say we want to know more about housing, then we could ring up the chairman of the Housing Corporation, for example, or talk to one of our local authorities and say, "Brief me more on this; I want to spend some time with you", and fit it into our own weekly schedule.

  Q186  Mrs May: I was talking about general overall professional development like time management skills. Is there any scope for those being put on; or do you think it is for individual Members, if they feel the need, to find a course somewhere?

  Sir Alan Haselhurst: I am not sure I would put House resources behind that particular aspect of development. If someone feels that they have got such a large staff, for example, that they need help in dealing with it, then they ought to go to a specialist that they could know or call upon to say, "How can I handle this; I am in a situation I am not used to?" I have never quite been in the situation myself that my staff has been so large that I have struggled to manage it. I notice that some colleagues now have quite a long staff list and that may give rise to that kind of problem. There are lots of people around that one could consult individually over things like time management, to say, "I am struggling here". I am not sure that the House has to provide it on a corporate basis.

  Q187  Chairman: You cover a great deal in your memorandum, so can we move on to this business of the week's predictability and topicality of business? You comment that Thursdays have become a virtual non-day; and that is a point that Sir George Young has also made in his memorandum. I think we need to look at that, and you may have some thoughts about how we make it into more of a day. Sir George Young has suggested that PMQs are moved to Thursday. The other issue is speakers' lists. You say there are reasons for not having those. I have been in the very fortunate position over almost all my career of being on the frontbench rather than the backbenches; but I remember, even in the days when, to pick up Peter Riddell's point, one was used to long sermons rather than short sermons, spending six hours in the Chamber and then not getting called was pretty irritating. That was in the days when there were no other draws on a backbencher's time because there were no select committees. You will remember those times. It seems to me that today there has been a huge increase in constituency pressures. Bearing in mind the demands of what you would refer to as 24/7 news services and much else besides, to expect a Member to sit there, not knowing whether they are going to get called, is worse than the disadvantages of the speakers' list, which is that it may become rather mechanical. My own sense is that if you had speakers' lists, but also the Chair was rigid in saying, "If you want to be on the list, you have got to be there at the beginning of the debate; you have to stay after you have spoken; and you have to be there for the wind-ups; and, by the way, if you are not, do not expect to get called again for a very long time"—if you do that and allow injury time on interventions, so that it is not like the House of Lords where people are reading speeches, and the dynamic of debate continues, surely speakers' lists would work?

  Sir Alan Haselhurst: I think it is important to separate myth and reality here. I read with increasing disbelief some of the evidence you have already heard from colleagues as to the days on days where they have sat for six hours, frustrated. I do not remember what these days were. The occasions when there are too many people to get into the time available are increasingly sparse, even on such easy occasions, if I may say so from the point of view of making a speech, as the Queen's Speech Debate, where the House has been packing up early for lack of speakers. I think it is only on very few occasions now that the debate is seriously over-subscribed to the extent that people have no chance of being called. The Chair is very different in its approach to Members from when I first came here. It was very difficult to approach the Chair, as a young Member in those days; now the Chair is much more benevolent and recognises that Members have all these pressures, and it does attempt to be helpful. We do not take any kind of pleasure from letting someone stew there, hour after hour, knowing jolly well that the chances of their being called are remote. We try to be helpful. People come up to the Chair and ask what is their chance, and we try and guide them and say that they could have a cup of tea and it will be later on. If you have heard the opening speeches and stay for at least one speech after you have spoken and you are in for the wind-ups, you will be keeping your nose clean as far as the Chair is concerned. There will be occasions when we even allow flexibility around that, according to circumstance. I do not think that there is quite the pressure every day, and more often than not in recent times one has seen the Whips busying around, trying to find people to come in to fill up the time. That is the very opposite to the impression that some people have given. The Chair does try to help. I would like to say very strongly to the Committee that it should advise the House to trust the Speaker. There is no parliament in the world that puts the Speaker on the pedestal that we do, by saying, "You have to be absolutely impartial; you can never return to party politics" et cetera. We see that person as defending the interests of the House and backbenchers and so on. If that is so, as I believe, then we should give flexibility to the Chair. It will try to be helpful, mindful of the interests of backbenchers and how life has changed for them. If you create lists, it brings a rigidity into it that will have some uncomfortable consequences. It is very difficult sometimes to discipline Members to do what one would like them to do ideally, which is to write in beforehand and then be present and so on. If a senior Member comes to the Chair and says, "I hope you have got my name on the list" and one says, "I am afraid I have not"—"Oh, but I wrote a letter to the Speaker" or "I spoke to the Speaker's secretary" or "I did this" or "I did that", it is not easy for the Chair to say, "We have no record of that; go away". You try to be flexible. If someone comes in and says: "I have now got a delegation from a constituency that has come to see me and I am down on the list to speak at 2.30 approximately, but can I alter it?" the Chair is trying informally to do that. Members do play fast and loose with the Chair, and this is one of the difficulties about putting time limits on. We make an honest attempt at the Speaker's conference to try and share out the time. That is why I very strongly feel, as I put in my evidence, that one should give the Speaker flexibility to judge the situation as it develops.

  Q188  Sir Nicholas Winterton: Can I say I share the view that Sir Alan has just expressed in a very clear and transparent way. With your permission, Chairman, can I introduce the subject of short speeches, which comes later in Sir Alan's paper, because I think it dovetails in with this matter? Can I ask Sir Alan whether he believes that the new Standing Order relating to short speeches being a minimum of three minutes—and you mention this in your paper, and I have a vested interest because it was a recommendation of the Procedure Committee a year or two ago—has ever been used. I think it has been tried about once or twice. Do you, Sir Alan, believe that somebody being able to speak for three or four minutes at the end of a debate—perhaps the last hour in a full day's debate, or in the last half hour before wind-ups in a half-day debate—would give people the incentive to be there and listen to their colleagues? This is one thing that worries me, having been here for a number of years: increasingly, Members come in and out of the Chamber and do not sit for a major proportion of the debate in order to listen to what colleagues have to say from their own side and from the other side of the House. A use of the Standing Order more frequently to enable many more people—it could be, if it were three minutes in the last hour of a major debate— twenty additional speakers getting in, making one or two very critical points. You have said to me privately, Sir Alan, that very often the short speech is the better speech. Do you believe that this would help Members and reduce the frustration felt particularly by new Members of this House?

  Sir Alan Haselhurst: I know that the recommendation, which bears your fingerprints, Sir Nicholas, about the short speech rule, was well intended. I am not sure that it has worked as well in practice; and if it has not been used as often, it is partly on the grounds of the reticence of the Chair as to how fairly to introduce it in certain situations. There have been manifestations of annoyance by Members who have prepared a 10 or 12-minute speech to find that they are being offered a three-minute speech, which they do not feel they can adjust to and have then gone out of the Chamber. Therefore, while the calculations you have used say that for the last hour so many people are going to be there, who will have three minutes each, suddenly you find that that number has halved. It is quite difficult. That is the experience we have had with it, of changes taking place between the Speaker's conference when these things are decided, so that Members are given sufficient advance notice of what the time limit is going to be, if there is one for backbench speeches in today's debate. Circumstances alter either because a significant number of Members have withdrawn from speaking, or because a significant number of Members have put in a late plea to speak; and the time limit one has put on is no longer relevant to the situation with which you are faced. I plead for this Committee to look at giving total flexibility almost to the Speaker to be able to adjust. If he has started off by saying it is 12 minutes, then he may decide he can reduce that to 10 or eight, which would make less of a severe difference between those who come in early in the debate, and those in the last hour who find that all they are going to get is a gabbled three minutes.

  Q189  Chairman: I think we are all attracted to the flexibility you are proposing but are there flexibilities above the announced maximum? For example, if you announced a 10-minute limit but then the demand to speak fell away, could you then say Members could speak for fifteen minutes?

  Sir Alan Haselhurst: I personally would. Again I say: trust the Chair. If you had a situation, which I have to say one had as recently as yesterday, where there was anxiety on both sides in relation to a timetable that Members had; that there was likely to be a vote at 10 o'clock at the conclusion of the debate and the debate had to go on until that time. In some cases you might have been struggling to keep it going until that time. The Chair should have certain flexibility in that sense, I believe. As I say, if you have confidence in the Speaker and his assistants to operate the thing in the interests of Members, which is our tradition, then place that full trust in the Speaker.

  Q190  Philip Davies: You have said a couple of things that I would like to explore further. You mentioned time limits and commented about having a debate in the proper sense of the word. Do you think that having shortened time limits gives Members an excuse not to take interventions and therefore not to have a proper debate, which does not help in terms of adding to a debate? The second point is about the speakers' list. It seems to be either feast or famine; there are either debates in which everybody wants to speak or debates where nobody wants to speak. Is the problem not at the very start of a new parliament, when new Members are very enthusiastic and keen and want to throw themselves in? That is when they all experience not getting called. It happens once or twice at the start of their time in Parliament and at that time they decide, "This is a waste of time; I am not going to bother", and from that moment on they make a decision not to contribute to debates and not to put in to speak, even though later on in the Parliament they probably could get in. Do you not feel that it is their early experiences that shape the way they act in Parliament?

  Sir Alan Haselhurst: The Speaker's Office maintains very comprehensive records, and this has been a great insight for me in the last 10 years. It is surprising how well new Members do in terms of the number of occasions on which they speak. Sir Nicholas, in a previous session of the Committee, referred to the possibility of them making only two speeches in major debates. If you get an Iraq type debate, where probably sixty Members want to speak, and realistically only about thirty are going to do so because only one day has been devoted to it, there are problems of allocation. Across the board, in debates, on second-reading debates, on Opposition days and so on, or debates on adjournments of certain topics, the new Members are achieving quite good scoring rates, if I may say so; their average is not at all bad. There will always be pressure when it comes to very, very high-profile debates. You then have to ask yourself: "What are debates about?" If the House of Commons is a debating Chamber, it is only one aspect of what we do as members of the legislature. That is an occasion for challenge, probing debate, putting a matter on the record, trying to persuade either your party or the other party of a particular point of view to indicate the pressures on the country that you feel are important; and you must express yourself. On those occasions, you cannot completely exclude some of the major players from the debate. I know that this irks some newer Members, but, again, the Speaker is trying to leaven the wisdom and experience of some of the senior Members with the fresh intake. I am not sure it is quite accurate to say that every Member's constituency has a right to be heard in every debate, because patently that cannot be the case in the timetable we run for a debate; and you are only going to get between thirty and forty speakers, depending on how you operate the time limit. On the short speeches point, I think that to go down to three minutes and no interruptions is a corruption of the thing; and I believe you would be better off with a variable limit so that you can get a decent bite at the cherry.

  Q191  Mr Shepherd: There are three points to this question, and it is about the allocation of time. We have all witnessed days when business seems to have petered out at about seven o'clock. How would that time be filled and at whose discretion? The other question, which follows on from Philip's question, concerns where you have considerable interest by Members in participating in what is perhaps a nationally important debate. I will cite the Iraq debate for one day, when clearly many people could not get to speak; and yet in the House of Lords on this important issue, through the Leader of the House we had two days to consider the proposals in front of the House. Is it practical that the Speaker could actually say that because of the number of requests coming in, this requires two days? Historically of course we sometimes go for three days to second-readings if there is an important matter before Parliament, and there are a couple of instances of that; and in important second-readings there are also instances of two days being given over, because that is the point where the principle is being discussed. Can you give us your views on these issues?

  Sir Alan Haselhurst: I think it would be quite a serious step, on the latter point, to suggest that the powers of the Speaker to determine the business of the House and the length of time available for it should be extended in the way you are hinting.

  Q192  Mr Shepherd: It is not hinting, in all fairness. I am just seeing it as a proposition. This does not occur very often in truth, does it?

  Sir Alan Haselhurst: No. I am not directly privy to this because, obviously, there are certain things that the Speaker does which only the Speaker can do, and it is not a corporate or collective decision; but the Speaker meets the Chief Whips of the parties on a regular basis and I think it is through that means that he would attempt to influence the situation; but it would be a very big step indeed to move away from the role of the usual channels to determine what should be the length of time available for a debate. On some occasions it ought to be as plain as a pikestaff that there would be—and probably only two or three times a year—such a demand generated for a debate; so let us be adult about this and allow a sufficient amount of time for it. There are two contradictions, I think, going through the whole of this debate. There is the topicality versus predictability point, which I do make some comments about; and also there is a clash between those Members who say, "There is too little time for us to be doing these things" and at the same time saying, "Can we leave at five o'clock?" We have got to get this right. It is a certain sort of job, this; and there are lots of people across the country in different jobs who will have to work all sorts of hours, according to the demands of that job. I do not see that this job is so out of line with what a whole section of the population knows, be they in the public services or wherever, that sometimes there are funny hours. One of the things I worry about, where there is a squeeze on backbench Members, is when ministerial statements are made with permission—would it ever be denied?—of course it would not be—and an urgent question is raised. This is where the Speaker can exercise some influence on topicality, but has to take account not just of that issue but what it is going to do to the timetable for the day. If he knows he has a list of Members wanting to speak on the named business, he has to agonise—"can I let these things go and add to the agenda without there being injury time at the end?" That is the dilemma, and I do not think the Speaker should be put in that position where his unfettered decision is in fact fettered in his mind by the realisation that there is a point of interruption which he cannot effect. The debates petering out is again a matter of management for the usual channels, and it comes up against this predictability point. If Members have been told by their various Whips' offices that they should be here at 10 o'clock or seven o'clock for a vote and it looks as though the debate does not have the natural steam in it to last that long, what happens? That is the problem. It seems to me, never having been part of the usual channels, that there ought to be rather better man management between them to be realistic about the fact that the debate is not likely to last; and therefore they either seek to put in two debates in the time available or determine whether it is a matter that can be remitted elsewhere. I suggest that Westminster Hall might be a place where various things might be tried which have not so far been tried.

  Chairman: We only have another twelve minutes, and I want to ask Sir Alan to make some general remarks at the end so if everybody could bear that in mind...

  Q193  Mr Sanders: If a debate does run out, what is there to stop you suspending that until the 10 o'clock vote, rather than forcing people to, in a sense, lower the quality of the debate by trying to keep it going? Is there any reason why you cannot just suspend and then stick to a timetable of when there was going to be a vote?

  Sir Alan Haselhurst: I do not think so. There is no actual procedure for it, and it certainly could be done; but it would be an extraordinary commentary, would it not, on what this place is about if apparently the country has elected 646 people and there are not enough of us to keep a debate going on a certain subject?

  Q194  Mr Sanders: It would be honest, would it not?

  Sir Alan Haselhurst: It might be honest, but it might be too honest for our own good, I would have thought.

  Q195  Mr Burstow: It does bring a different meaning to the term "spontaneity of debate" when the Whips are bringing everyone in to make speeches that they may not have planned to make in any way, shape or form until the piece of paper was given to them. There are some interesting proposals in your paper about Westminster Hall that I wanted to tease out a bit further. I was particularly interested in the idea that you suggest around raising topical issues in this 30-minute slot and the opportunity for 10 Members to make three-minute contributions and so on. Can you elaborate on how the mechanics of that might work and how frequently during the course of a week it might be used? It sounds to me to be quite a useful device to allow Members to raise topical issues that they want to draw to the attention of the House.

  Sir Alan Haselhurst: I cannot see anything wrong with an experiment. Some of the proposals that have come out of this Committee during its lifetime have been on the basis of persuading the House to try something for an experimental period. It seems to me that some of the more innovative ideas could be given a test run in Westminster Hall. There is scope for using Westminster Hall either differently from the three days that is used at the moment, or even by extending on to a Monday. I cannot see any difficulty about that. I would suggest that one might have a half-hour topicality slot, which certain legislatures in the world already have, on a weekly basis, and see how it goes. If it proves to be valuable and allows certain issues to be aired, be they of national or constituency importance, and got on the record; depending on how Members react to it, it could be something that is extended or even transferred to the Chamber.

  Chairman: Mark wants to come in on this, and so does Theresa. Can we concentrate on statements and the important section on programming that Sir Alan raised in the remaining time?

  Q196  Mark Lazarowicz: I can see the argument about allowing some injury time at report stage, but presumably there is an argument for some limit to the injury time allowed at report stage because you could have a situation where it could run into a considerable amount of time beyond the expected end of the day. I would be interested in your views on that. Can I briefly go back to the point that Paul Burstow made on Westminster Hall debates. I was interested in your reference to proposals regarding select committee reports. I think that is a good idea, and I wonder if you have any indication of why that proposal never saw the light of day, in terms of actual business in Westminster Hall, as a result?

  Sir Alan Haselhurst: On the last point, I do not know why it did not see the light of day, but I am inviting the Committee to look at this again and see whether it might be tried. On injury time, there are two situations. One is the report stage where, if you are allowing under the programme one hour supposedly for a third reading debate, and when the closure comes on the report stage one hour before the final point of interruption, there could then be a series of votes; and that can often tear to ribbons the time available for third reading. Third reading in those circumstances has lost all meaning as a debate. It is absurd that one gets a quarter of an hour of congratulation, back-slapping and so on, and the only person never mentioned is the Chair. The thing does not end on the highest note. It seems to me that the Committee might consider whether third reading has a purpose—which I am inclined to think it has, but maybe times have moved on. If there is a purpose to third reading, let it be a protected hour—that is all I am saying. The other injury time is because of the topicalities. If the Committee decided to suggest that the criterion that the Speaker is expected to work within for determining urgent questions, might be relaxed slightly in order to promote topicality, there are consequences of that. Similarly, what I said about statements was with the aim of cutting down the total amount of time that is spent on a Government statement, and yet benefiting backbenchers disproportionately. If you could get statements over more quickly as a result of people being better informed about what was in a statement half an hour beforehand, again we would be saving time to some extent. It is not totally infrequent to have two government statements in a day, plus there is a good urgent question that ought to be taken: it seems to me that you cannot just slash the time available for what might be a second-reading debate or any other kind of debate, when you know a lot of Members wish to take part in that; and therefore you have to add on some injury time. There could be a formula for it so that there is some limit to it. I am not suggesting that we get into a situation of going through the night or this kind of nonsense; but we have to get the balance right between the ability to function, as one is sent here by one's constituents to do, and at the same time being able to get away at a reasonable hour. It is extraordinary that we should pack up when so many Members are frustrated at not being able to speak because of a general desire not to be here beyond a certain time.

  Q197  Mrs May: I want to pick up particularly the issue of statements. Many people will have a certain sympathy for your proposal that everybody should get a copy of the statement in advance, particularly when things have been announced in the press beforehand anyway. People will have a rough idea of what is happening. I would like to tease out what you meant by saying there is further scope for injecting crispness and more discipline into the statement procedure, and whether it was about further reducing the length of time frontbenchers have to speak to give more opportunity for questions; and do you think there should be general guidance on the minimum period that a statement is available in advance to frontbenchers and backbenchers? The worst occasion I experienced was when shadowing Stephen Byers and a particularly important statement came out 10 minutes before he stood up.

  Chairman: To you?

  Mrs May: To me—which meant that there was very little time to look at it. Ministers obviously vary on this. In terms of statements and urgent questions, and that topicality issue, you have not made any reference to SO No. 24 and the use of that procedure, and whether there is more scope for that.

  Q198  Sir Nicholas Winterton: Before you answer Theresa's question, there was a very important statement on Monday relating to Iraq on the abduction of the 15 service personnel and selling stories to the media. The Speaker, for probably very good reason, terminated that statement and supplementaries from backbenchers after an hour, albeit there were a lot of Members still wanting to speak. Do you think that in a case like that, when there is such an important statement being made, and a lot of people are interested, there could be injury time granted that could change the time of the point of interruption so that in fact more people could participate in what is a critical issue and a very important statement?

  Sir Alan Haselhurst: That is the whole point I am making. On that occasion, the Speaker knew he had another ministerial statement that followed that one, and he could have had a request for an urgent question. I do not think he did have, or I was not aware of that. The fact is that the whole question of injury time has to be considered because we are being squeezed, and that does not sit well with Members then saying they have not got the opportunity to take part in debates. My own thoughts on the statement, which are for your consideration—and I have not pre-discussed it with Mr Speaker—are that if it were practical for all Members to be able to pick up the statement from the Vote Office half an hour beforehand, I think you could then say to a minister, "You do not then make your statement by reading the whole thing out but you speak to your statement for, say, five minutes"; and then the principal opposition and the third party perhaps have three minutes; and then the rest of the time that is available is for backbenchers. I think that the questions that might be asked in those circumstances would be more to the point. When you are listening to something for the first time you do not always digest it and you may therefore ask what I call a "damn fool" question because you didn't quite catch it, and sometimes you do miss the point; or you can ask a more incisive question because you have seen what is in the statement and mentally have it bedded down in your mind. I think that would lead to crispness and so on. At the same time, the Chair would then batten down hard on long preambles from Members rather than asking a question; so the whole thing could be more tightly managed. As to the courtesies given to the principal shadow spokesman, that works generally speaking. It occasionally goes wrong and sometimes there will be frantic efforts to alter a statement at the last minute and so on. I think the normal courtesies work. I did not mention SO No. 24 specifically in my submission, but I would say that that is another opportunity where the criteria governing Mr Speaker could be relaxed again. In my early days in this place you were getting SO No. 24s every day, and the House got tired of this, because of the ritualistic response by the Speaker; but you also got the occasions when they were accepted. There was huge dislocation then for everybody because the Speaker announced there would be a three-hour debate on that matter the following day, and suddenly people were looking at their train timetables and so on. Again, this is the clash between topicality and Members' predictability. We have to accept there is some inconvenience in this work if we really want to be on the button on a particular matter.

  Q199  Chairman: Thank you very much, Sir Alan. Time, sadly, has run out, even here! Is there anything you wanted to say by way of summary?

  Sir Alan Haselhurst: There are just two other points that we have not covered. I simply stress that we have to be adult about this business of topicality and predictability, and see what the job is that we are trying to do. Trust the Speaker, is my other great theme, because the Speaker will try to be helpful and not be seen as distant, as is implied in some ways by the evidence given, by people feeling that they were just wasting their time in the Chamber. Private Members' motions I would commend. I think they were almost abolished by accident, but if Members want to put forward a subject that will have a vote at the end, you might seriously give consideration to the restoration of that. I would commend again— because I tried to make it work from the Chair, but it was not all down to me—the cross-cutting questions idea in Westminster Hall. Again, let us experiment in Westminster Hall and see whether some of these ways of helping Members and making Parliament more effective can be developed there.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed for your memorandum and for this evidence session.

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