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2.9 pm

Ms Harman: On the question of deferred Divisions, one of the reasons for introducing them was to enable Members to vote other than very late at night. Deferred Divisions do not apply to motions to which amendments have been tabled. That makes sense. It is simple for hon.
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Members to vote in a deferred Division on a simple straightforward motion, but it would be difficult to do so on a motion with amendments, or amendments to amendments. I am a strong advocate of deferred Divisions as a means of avoiding late-night voting.

One of the reasons for putting this debate on today, rather than at the end of the debate last Monday, was so that we would not be voting very late at night. Instead, Members can be present at the debate this afternoon and then get on with the voting. I hope that that answers that point.

I feel very uncomfortable indeed that I appear to be crossing swords with the Procedure Committee, because I think it does extremely good work; indeed, I pay tribute to it. Members know that they do not make themselves national figures of great popularity by serving on that Committee, but they do a good job on behalf of the House by taking forward detailed procedural issues. Somebody has got to do that, and they do it extremely well. As has been said, they have taken time and trouble in their work on the matter that we are discussing, and they have produced detailed work not only on the election of the Deputy Speakers but on petitioning and a range of other issues. The House has benefited from all that.

I do not want to get into a detailed debate about a motion that is not before the House-we are currently discussing the business motion-but I would like to respond briefly on the election of the Speaker. Deputy Speakers are elected at general elections under party banners. They stand for election like any other Member of the House, as Labour, Liberal Democrat or Conservative. The Speaker's situation is different: the Speaker stands for election as Speaker of the House and, by convention, the other parties do not stand against the Speaker. There is, therefore, a difference between Deputy Speakers and Speakers. I know that that does not address the issue-

Mr. Greg Knight: Will the Leader of the House give way?

Ms Harman: If the right hon. Gentleman will let me continue, I will give way before I conclude if I have not answered the point he wishes to raise.

I know that my comments on Speaker and Deputy Speaker do not address the annoyance that is felt at the fact that I control what is put down for the House to debate. We have already taken steps to deal with that issue, however, because last Monday we agreed that we did not have to wait for a House business committee, because a private Member could table a motion. Indeed, after the election, a private Member could table motions 69 and 72 and have them debated and voted on. This is not just a question of proving why we need a House business committee, therefore, as we have already given Back-Bench Members the opportunity to bring a matter before the House for a debate and a vote.

Mr. Knight rose-

Ms Harman: I will give way in a moment.

We now have now got a lot of substantive business before the House. We have the election of Deputy Speakers and the election of Chairs and members of Select Committees. We have the establishment of a
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House Committee to deal with Back-Bench business and also an amendment to give that House Committee the opportunity to deal with Government business too, as well as a whole range of other issues. These are very important, substantive matters, and I suggest that we should not take up time debating something that is not before the House, although I accept that Members are questioning why it is not before the House.

I also ask Members to let us agree to this business motion without a Division, because if there is a Division, I am sure that the motion will be passed, and all that will have been achieved is that time will have been taken out of the debate. Therefore, if Members call out against the motion, it will avail them of nothing except taking 15 minutes out of the available time in order to vote.

Mr. Knight rose-

Ms Harman: I shall give way in a moment.

I do not stand back from the fact that I have time-limited the next debate to two hours, because we want to have the debate on the substance of the motions and then we want to vote on them, and there will be quite a number of votes. Afterwards, Members will be able to return to their constituencies.

Before I sit down and commend the motion to the House, I shall give way to the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), who is the Procedure Committee Chair-

Sir Patrick Cormack: Chairman.

Ms Harman: The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire is Chair of the Procedure Committee, and I think he has done an excellent job and I very much enjoy working with him, so I am sorry that he is, no doubt, going to be very unpleasant in his intervention.

Mr. Knight: I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving way, and I hope I am never very unpleasant to her or anyone else in the House.

The Procedure Committee accepts that the Speaker is in a totally different position from Deputy Speakers, and the argument that the right hon. and learned Lady just put forward is a strong one, but it is just that: an argument for debate. She is denying us that very debate in which that argument could be put, however, and I have to say to her that I find that indefensible. Also, if the remarks that she made to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) behind the Chair are true, she ought to be ashamed of herself.

Ms Harman: I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman heard the remarks that I made to the hon. Member for Christchurch, behind the Speaker's Chair, but I do not remember his being there. I said nothing about my own views and intentions. I actually cast aspersions on the hon. Gentleman's. No light was shed on my views, therefore, in case anybody has run away with that idea. That is all I can say about that. I would not want to repeat to the House what I said about the hon. Member for Christchurch, and I do not know why he has raised this.

Mr. Chope rose-

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Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman has merely created a cloud of suspicion, when we should just be getting on with the job. I shall allow him to intervene, but I might regret it.

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for giving way on this issue. Can she tell me why she has tabled motion 69? Does she intend at some stage that we should have the opportunity to debate and vote on it, and if not, why not?

Ms Harman: When I get to make my speech in the substantive debate, the hon. Gentleman will hear me saying that we have made a lot of changes and we have an opportunity to make some further changes tonight, but that this is not the end of the process. Members need not fear that their work will be in vain, therefore, as this is an ongoing process, and I think we have made good progress already and have the opportunity of making further progress tonight. With that, I commend this business motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


Mr. Leigh: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have rightly made your name by defending and promoting democracy. I believe you could solve this issue at a stroke if you stood up and said that you would encourage the Leader of the House to facilitate a vote. You have nothing to fear from this, Mr. Speaker-it is only democracy-and it is in your hands.

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his attempted point of order, but he has been in the House since 1983 without interruption-he is in his 27th year of service-and he knows perfectly well that what he has just said is simply not a point of order.

We shall now proceed to the substantive business. As Members will be aware, I have issued my selection of amendments, which has been distributed in the usual way.

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Chair (Terminology)

2.18 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): I beg to move,

Mr. Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss motions 4 to 8.

Ms Harman: The House now has an opportunity to consider and vote on the recommendations of the Select Committee on House of Commons Reform. That includes the motions that I have tabled and the amendments that have been selected.

We had a constructive debate on the Committee's proposals last Monday. At the end of that debate, 11 of the Government's 16 motions were agreed to unanimously, without Division. What we agreed included the following on strengthening Select Committees: a time frame for the establishment of Select Committees within six weeks of the start of a new Parliament; reducing the size of some Committees to make them more effective, with a standard membership of only 11; and a review of the role, resources and tasks of Select Committees by the Liaison Committee. We agreed that there would be a vote in the next Parliament on September sittings. We agreed that we should have greater engagement of the public with our proceedings by providing more opportunities for them to influence draft Bills. We agreed a range of reforms of the petitioning system, including a process for petitions to trigger debates; and we agreed to give more power to Back Benchers, with a new procedure for them to move substantive motions that can be voted on.

Today we have the opportunity to go further. We will have a further short debate and then proceed to vote on the remaining proposals of the Commons Reform
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Committee. As we have already debated these recommendations for many hours, I propose to speak very fast-I was going to say that I would speak briefly, but I realise that I have quite a long speech to make, so I shall make up in speed what I am not able to do in length.

The House needs reform to give more power to Back Benchers, to give the House more power over the Government. We have already made progress on strengthening the House of Commons over the past 13 years.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Will the Leader of the House give way?

Ms Harman: This is House business; the motions are on the Order Paper, there is no whipping and there is no insight I can give that hon. Members cannot work out for themselves by reading it, so I am not going to take interventions. I say that because this is not about me; it is about every individual Member of this House making their decision. The hon. Gentleman can therefore ask himself the question and answer it.

We are not starting from scratch; the proposals that we return to today are not the beginning of reform, nor will they be the end of reform, but they are substantial reforms and, once again, I wish to record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) and the other members of the Committee for their work. I thank him for his proposal to establish the Committee, which I readily supported.

Today's business enables Members to have a series of votes on the Commons Reform Committee's proposals. I shall address the motions in the order in which they will be put to the House. Motion 3 removes the term "chairman" from the Standing Orders and replaces it with the term "chair", and I support it. Motion 4 creates a new Standing Order with effect from the beginning of the next Parliament, which provides for a process for electing the Chairs of departmental and similar Select Committees by secret ballot of the whole House, based on party distributions proposed by the Speaker and agreed by the parties and the House. Amendment (p), which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and others, would add the Procedure Committee to the list of Committees whose Chairs are to be elected in this way. The Commons Reform Committee recommended that this procedure should apply to

The Procedure Committee is not a departmental or similar Select Committee; it is, as we Latin scholars would say, sui generis. The amendment goes beyond the scope of the recommendation and for that reason I shall be voting against it. Nor shall I be supporting amendment (o), which stands in the names of the hon. Members for Christchurch and for North Thanet (Mr. Gale).

Several hon. Members rose -

Ms Harman: I have realised that my "no giving way" policy is not going to cut the mustard, so I will just finish this paragraph and then give way.

Amendment (o) would allow any Member of the House to move a motion allocating Select Committee Chairs to parties if the party leaders fail to do so within
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two weeks of the start of a Parliament. This is a matter that the Reform Committee envisages should continue to be settled by negotiation between the parties, but this is ultimately a matter for the judgment of the House. I shall not be supporting the amendment, but it will not be the end of the world if the House passes it.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): On the election of the members and the Chair of the Procedure Committee, does the Leader of the House accept that it would be very odd if the House was not to elect those members, given the increased role that the Procedure Committee will have? It will have a crucial role in taking forward these reforms in future, so is this not a matter of the Wright Committee having left this out by oversight rather than intent?

Ms Harman: If my hon. Friend, who has done a lot of work on these issues, takes that view, he does not need to agree with me and he can vote in his own way on that amendment.

Mr. Llwyd rose-

Ms Harman: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman if he still wants to ask a question and has not lost the will to live.

Mr. Llwyd: I am almost there, listening to the right hon. and learned Lady. What I would like to know is how she envisages the rights of minority parties being accommodated within the Back-Bench Procedure Committee.

Ms Harman: There is no proposal at the moment for changing the arrangements in relation to the Procedure Committee, so I think that matter will just have to be dealt with in the usual way. However, I will take an opportunity to ask the Deputy Leader of the House to get back to the hon. Gentleman on that when she makes her concluding remarks.

Mr. Llwyd rose-

Ms Harman: If the hon. Gentleman wants to make an intervention that suggests the answer to this, he may do so.

Mr. Llwyd: No, no. What I would like to ask the right hon. and learned Lady is how she will accommodate the interests of minority parties on the Back-Bench business committee.

Ms Harman: That question shows why we have further details to work out on that, and I agree that it is an important matter.

Amendment (q), which stands in the name of the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), seeks to ensure that the Chair of that Committee will always be an Opposition Member. This is already the long-established convention and there is no intention of changing it. The Chair of that Committee has always and should always be held by an Opposition Member, and I hope that on the basis of that assurance he does not feel the need to press his amendment to a vote.

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