HC Deb 18 April 1994 vol 241 cc638-40
43. Mr. Steen

To ask the Lord President of the Council what proposals he has to confine the sittings of the House to four days a week including one all-night sitting.

Mr. Newton

I have no plans to propose such an arrangement and I do not believe that I would receive much thanks if I did.

Mr. Steen

If we did sit all night one day a week, it would be possible to use some of the 66 beds mentioned earlier—two thirds of which have not been used for five years. Would not it be far wiser to convert those sleeping facilities into offices, so that hon. Members who are squashed together like sardines could enjoy better accommodation in the Palace of Westminster?

Mr. Newton

I will not attempt to embroider the comments of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) in response to a similar question earlier. My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) has assiduously pursued his campaign and has already had some exchanges with the House authorities. I know that they are further considering some of his points. In my judgment, it is right that the matter should be given further consideration.

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the Lord President give an assurance that if we are compelled to use those bedrooms, none of us will be forced to share one with the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) to save on expenses?

Mr. Newton

I am well aware that the hon. Gentleman never sleeps.

44. Mr. Ian Bruce

To ask the Lord President of the Council how many hours the House sat in the 1992–93 Session; and what was the equivalent figure in 1978–79 and 1964–65.

Mr. Newton

In the 1992–93 Session, the House sat 1,983 hours and 48 minutes over 240 sitting days—an average of eight hours and 16 minutes per day. The equivalent figures for the 1978–79 Session were 878 hours and 20 minutes over 85 sitting days—a daily average of 10 hours and 20 minutes. In the 1964–65 Session, the House sat 1,592 hours and two minutes over 177 sitting days—an average of eight hours and 59 minutes per day.

Mr. Bruce

I thank my right hon. Friend for those interesting statistics. Does he agree that we should amend the way in which we deal with legislation? Although much time is spent in debate on the Floor of the House and in Committee, we often exert little influence over the civil servants and Ministers who draft Bills. If we revised the way in which we tackle legislation, we might spend our time more productively.

Mr. Newton

I am sure that there might be ways in which the scrutiny of legislation can be improved, alongside a number of the improvements that have been made in recent years. Having been a Minister in various Departments, I can tell my hon. Friend that he should not underestimate the effect that the probing of the House, both on the Floor and not least in Standing Committee, can have on Ministers and their officials.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is the Leader of the House aware that nowadays, far from getting better scrutiny, more and more information is being hidden by Ministers, both by referring hon. Members to the heads of executive agencies and by saying that letters will be placed in the Library? That is a reversal of the democratic position and one that is becoming extremely dangerous and all too common.

Mr. Newton

I do not accept for one moment the suggestion that because the information in some of these cases comes from the person principally concerned with the day-to-day administration of the service, without in any way altering the responsibility of the Secretary of State for the overall delivery of that service, there is any kind of concealment. Of course, answers are made available, in a way for which the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) pressed over a long period.

Forward to