HC Deb 24 June 1991 vol 193 cc683-5
37. Mr. Skinner

To ask the Lord President of the Council what further discussions he has had in relation to hours of work and procedures in the House of Commons; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. MacGregor

I have been having a number of discussions and hope to make an announcement shortly.

Mr. Skinner

Why cannot the Leader of the House make an announcement? Is it because he does not know how to deal with the request that has probably been made about the ending of the pairing system, another name for which is organised truancy, or has he got caught up in requests coming from the Common Market that all these MEPs and bureaucrats—federalists—should be allowed in here to crawl all over the place? Who is running the right hon. Gentleman's Department? Is it Jacques Delors?

Mr. MacGregor

It has nothing to do with either point. The pairing system has nothing to do with our hours of work and procedures. The question of access to various parts of Parliament—of the building—by MEPs is being considered by the Services Committee, but that is an entirely different matter from the points made by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my right hon. Friend make a serious effort to produce the review of working hours? It has become a fetish or shibboleth for Ministers, and other right hon. and hon. Members with important responsibilities, to walk around like ashen-faced zombies through overwork late at night. There is no merit in that; it makes no sense and brings the House no credit outside. Will my right hon. Friend do something, fast?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not think that there are any zombies here.

In the past year or so we have changed our procedures on a number of issues, including private Members' Bills, ten-minute Bills, the tabling of oral questions and, in particular, the scrutiny of European legislation. The change involving European Standing Committees has already had a marked effect on the number of late sittings in the House. That is a considerable improvement and I think it important to make it work.

As for the review, there is a wide variety of views in the House about what changes should be made. I consider it important to proceed on the basis of some agreement and that is what is currently in my mind.

Dr. Cunningham

The Leader of the House will find a large measure of agreement and support for any proposal that he may present for a wide-ranging review of our practices and procedures, our sitting hours and related matters. May I urge him to present such a proposal, following his normal meticulous consultations? Will he also make an oral statement in the Chamber, so that the wide range of views can be expressed and we can have a genuine exchange here, rather than dealing with it by way of a written reply?

Mr. McGregor

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He and I share a number of views about the ways in which we can improve the workings of the House and I have always been extremely grateful for the co-operative manner in which he has approached such issues. This is very much a House of Commons matter. What has emerged from the many discussions in which I have participated is that wide variety of views. There is often a conflict of opinions, not between the two sides of the House but between hon. Members of all parties.

I noted the hon. Gentleman's point about speed. I shall certainly address that; as he knows, I am undertaking consultations. I also noted his request for an oral statement.