HC Deb 19 December 1994 vol 251 cc1456-98
Madam Speaker

I must inform the House that I have selected amendment (b), standing in the name of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), to motion No. 5. If he wants to move it formally at the end of the debate for Division purposes, I shall look to him at that time. Members may of course speak to all the other amendments on the Order Paper.

7.34 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)

I beg to move, That, during the present Session of Parliament, the Standing Orders and practice of the House shall have effect subject to the modifications set out below.

  1. (1) In this Order 'a consolidation bill' means a public bill such as is defined in paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 123 (Joint Committee on Consolidation, &c., Bills).
  2. (2) Notices of amendments, new clauses and new schedules to be moved in committee in respect of a consolidation bill may be received by the Clerks at the Table before the bill has been read a second time.
  3. (3) If a motion that a consolidation bill be not committed is made by a Minister of the Crown immediately after the bill has been read a second time, the motion shall not require notice and the question thereon shall be put forthwith and may be decided, though opposed, at any hour.
  4. (4) The question for the third reading of a consolidation bill shall be put forthwith.
  5. (5) Any public bill, the main purpose of which is to give effect to proposals contained in a report by either of the Law Commissions, other than a private Member's bill or a consolidation bill, shall, when it is set down for second reading, stand referred to a second reading committee, unless—
    1. (a) the House otherwise orders, or
    2. (b) the bill is referred to the Scottish Grand Committee.
  6. (6) If a motion that a bill such as is referred to in paragraph (5) above shall not stand referred to a second reading committee is made by a Minister of the Crown at the commencement of public business, the question thereon shall be put forthwith.
  7. (7) The provisions of paragraphs (3) to (6) of Standing Order No. 90 (Second reading committees) shall apply to any bill referred to a second reading committee under paragraph (5) above.
It may be for the convenience of the House if I also refer to the other four motions before us. The first is: That, during the present Session of Parliament, the Standing Orders and practice of the House shall have effect subject to the modifications set out below.
  1. (1) The Speaker shall put the questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on motions authorising expenditure in connection with a bill and on ways and means motions in connection with a bill—
    1. (i) forthwith, if such a motion is made at the same sitting as that at which the bill has been read a second time; or
    2. (ii) not later than three-quarters of an hour after the commencement of those proceedings, if the motion is made otherwise.
  2. (2) Business under paragraph (1) above may be proceeded with at any hour, though opposed.
  3. (3) In Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) paragraph (1) (d) and the proviso thereto shall be omitted.
The second is: That, during the present Session of Parliament, the Standing Orders and practice of the House shall have effect subject to the modifications set out below.
  1. (1) The following paragraphs shall be inserted after paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 101 (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.):
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  3. '(2A) Where a Minister of the Crown has given notice of a motion to the effect that a statutory instrument or draft statutory instrument be approved, the instrument or draft instrument shall stand referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c., unless—
    1. (a) notice has been given by a Minister of the Crown of a motion that the instrument or draft instrument shall not so stand referred, or
    2. (b) the instrument or draft instrument is referred to the Scottish Grand Committee.'
  4. (2) In paragraph (3) of the said Standing Order, for lines 18 to 20 there shall be substituted the words 'that a measure under the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919 be presented to Her Majesty for her Royal Assent, or of a motion relating to an instrument made under such a measure'; in paragraph (5) for the words 'paragraph (3) (a) or (3) (b)' there shall be substituted the words 'paragraphs (2A) or (3)'; and in paragraph (6) the words from 'instruments' in line 54 to the end of the paragraph shall be omitted.
  5. (3) Except as provided in Standing Order No. 14A (Consideration of draft deregulation orders), the Speaker shall put the questions necessary to dispose of proceedings under any Act of Parliament or on European Community documents not later than one and a half hours after the commencement of such proceedings; and Standing Orders No. 14 (Exempted business) and No. 15 (Prayers against statutory instruments, &c. (negative procedure)) shall have effect accordingly.
The third is: That, during the present Session of Parliament, the Standing Orders and practice of the House shall have effect subject to the modifications set out below: Provided that paragraphs (3) to (8) below shall come into effect on the third Wednesday on which the House shall sit after the making of this Order.
  1. (1) The House shall not sit on eight Fridays to be appointed by the House.
  2. (2) The Fridays so appointed shall be treated as sitting days for the purpose of calculating any period under any order of the House and for the purposes of paragraph (8) of Standing Order No. 18 (Notices of questions, motions and amendments) and of Standing Order No. 62 (Notices of amendments, &c., to bills); and on such Fridays—
    1. (i) notices of questions may be given by Members to the Table Office, and
    2. (ii) notices of amendments to bills, new clauses and new schedules and of amendments to Lords amendments may be received by the Public Bill Office,
    between Eleven o'clock and Three o'clock.
  3. (3) The House shall meet on Wednesdays at Ten o'clock and shall between that hour and half-past Two o'clock proceed with a motion for the adjournment of the House made by a Minister of the Crown.
  4. (4) The subjects for debates on that motion shall be chosen by ballot under informal arrangements made by the Speaker analogous to those which apply to the motion for the adjournment of the House under paragraph (7) of Standing Order No. 9 (Sittings of the House); and no subject shall be raised without notice.
  5. (5) Not more than two subjects shall be raised between Ten o'clock and One o'clock on a Wednesday, and not more than three between One o'clock and Half-past Two o'clock.
  6. (6) A motion for the adjournment of the House not disposed of at half-past Two o'clock on a Wednesday shall lapse; the House will then proceed with private business, motions for unopposed returns and questions; no subsequent motion for the adjournment of the House shall be made until all the questions asked at the commencement of public business have been disposed of; and, save as provided in paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration), no Member other than a Minister of the Crown may make such a motion before the orders of the day or notices of motions shall have been entered upon.
  7. (7) In paragraphs (1) and (2) of Standing Order No. 9 (Sittings of the House) the words "Wednesdays" and "Wednesday" respectively shall be omitted.
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  9. (8) Standing Order No. 10 (Sittings of the House (suspended sittings)) shall not have effect; the reference to the said Standing Order in paragraph (7) of Standing Order No. 9 (Sittings of the House) shall be omitted; and in paragraph (1)(a) of Standing Order No. 133 (Time and manner of presenting petitions) the words from "conclusion" in line 10 to "and" in line 14 shall be omitted.
  10. (9) In Standing Order No. 13 (Arrangement of public business) paragraphs (7), (8) and (9) shall be omitted; in paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 9 (Sittings of the House) for the words from "returns" in line 4 to the end of the paragraph there shall be substituted the words "and questions"; in Standing Order No. 15A (New writs) the words "or notices of motion" shall be omitted; in paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 90 (Second reading committees) the words "or notices of motions" in line 15 shall be omitted; and in paragraph (1)(b) of Standing Order No. 133 (Time and manner of presenting petitions) the words "or motions" in line 18 shall be omitted.
  11. (10) In Standing Order No. 22 (Periodic adjournments) for the words from "periods" In line 3 to the end there shall be substituted the words "the question I thereon shall be put forthwith".
  12. (11) In Standing Order No. 54 (Consolidated Fund Bills) paragraph (2) shall be omitted.
The fourth is: That, during the present Session of Parliament, the following provision shall have effect in place of Standing Order No. 45A (Short speeches): The Speaker may announce at the commencement of proceedings on any motion or order of the day relating to public business that she intends to call Members to speak for not more than ten minutes in the debate thereon, or between certain hours during that debate, and whenever the Speaker has made such an announcement she may direct any Member (other than a Minister of the Crown, a Member speaking on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition, or not more than one Member nominated by the leader of the second largest opposition party) who has spoken for ten minutes to resume his seat forthwith.". I should like also to refer to the wider package of reforms that the Government and the official Opposition have agreed to recommend to the House. I set it out in answer to a parliamentary question last Thursday, it appeared in Hansard on Friday; and I hope that hon. Members have found it helpful.

The proposals arise from the report of the Select Committee on Sittings of the House, under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling)—a report that the House has already debated twice on the Adjournment. I pay tribute to him for his labours, which I hope will tonight finally bear the fruit that he has urged on us for some time. I shall not attempt to rehearse everything in his report, as one of his proposals—and hence one of my aims—is to keep speeches reasonably brief. I would not want to breach that.

Following much diplomacy through the usual channels, involving, first, the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), then the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown), and more recently the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), who is with us tonight, we have agreed on a set of proposals which, as I told the House at the end of the debate on the Loyal Address, implements nearly all the changes proposed by my right hon. Friend's Committee. They also achieve its main strategic objectives, although not necessarily in precisely the way proposed.

I should like—this is more than a mere formality—to express my thanks to all involved in the discussions for their constructive approach. I hope that the hon. Member for Dewsbury will understand if I particularly mention the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East, who was in the hot seat during a key period. That is in no way to detract from the helpful discussions that I have had with the hon. Lady, who has shown a rapid grasp of these points in the few weeks that she has been doing the job.

The proposals, if the House approves the motions this evening, will be put into operation as an experiment—an important point—for the remainder of this Session, with a view to reviewing experience towards the end of it. There will thus be no permanent changes to our Standing Orders—as distinct from Sessional Orders applying to the remainder of this Session—without another debate and another vote in the House. For those who harbour some doubts about some aspects, I hope that that gives them an element of reassurance.

The Select Committee's main aim was to get rid of late sittings. There is not much doubt that most, if not all, Members would agree with that objective, which the Government fully share. I hope, though, that it will be recognised that, over the past two Sessions, in what one might call the spirit of Jopling, we have made every effort to organise the business in such a way as to reduce the number of late sittings. We have had a considerable amount of success in that, for which I pay tribute to the Opposition "usual channels". Certainly, hon. Members who, like me, have been in the House since the mid-1970s or earlier will recognise that there has been a huge reduction in the number of late sittings compared with what was taken for granted only 15 or 20 years ago.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

I should like the right hon. Gentleman to distinguish between the usual channels and the usual channels. The most recent time he used the expression, I could agree with it. But the first time he used it, he may have been taken to refer to the Whips Office, and I should like to stress that the Whips Office had nothing to do with this agreement.

Mr. Newton

I do not know whether I can say that the thought had never crossed my mind, but I do, of course, understand why the hon. Gentleman made that point. I hope that he in turn will understand that, if I refer to the usual channels, it is in the spirit of the conventions of the House and not an attempt to convict the hon. Gentleman of any particular sin. Indeed, I would not regard it as a sin to have been involved in putting together this package, which I regard as rather good.

To achieve its aims in respect of getting rid of late sittings, the Committee recognised clearly that, if the number of sitting hours is to be restrained, it is necessary also to reduce the amount of business to be taken on the Floor, and to ensure that the Government remain able to secure a reasonable programme of legislation. That was therefore the focus of a large number of its recommendations.

Before coming to the various specific suggestions that the Committee made for easing the weight of business on the Floor, virtually all of which are implemented in the motions, I should first say a word about the Committee's proposal that is normally described as the automatic timetabling of Government Bills, which it saw as an important ingredient in the package to allow greater certainty of finishing at 10 o'clock.

After a good deal of reflection, and I mean a good deal, the Government and the Opposition concluded that the most sensible approach to the two linked issues—the timetabling of Bills and restrictions on the hours of sitting—is to rely on voluntary agreements reached through the usual channels, the people most closely concerned—I say this without prejudice to the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), and perhaps as a compliment to him—with making any agreement work in this place. In other words, we think that it is better to continue to operate on that basis rather than devise some new mechanistic solution.

Having searched long and hard for a form of timetable motion that would ensure that the agreed rate of progress was made with each Bill, without resorting to the rigidity and inflexibility of the conventional guillotine—Standing Order No. 80—we concluded that such a mechanism did not exist. We were forced to conclude that, in effect, any mechanism that could be put formally as a timetabling mechanism for Government Bills would end up being a guillotine, and that that would present many difficulties, certainly for the Opposition and possibly also for the House in terms of the flexible arrangement of its business.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Surely the Leader of the House must recognise that what has tended to happen in recent years is that the Government have guillotined more and more Bills under procedures that allow no input from the official Opposition, or for that matter from other groups in the House, including his own Back Benchers. Does he not recognise that the Committee was seeking to provide a way in which timetabling could be achieved, but which nevertheless gave opportunities to those in the House with legitimate concerns about Bills? We risk getting the worst of both worlds—easy guillotines for the Government to introduce and no safeguards for anybody else.

Mr. Newton

If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the statistics, he will see that his assumption that the number of guillotines has been steadily rising in recent years is not founded. The number did not enlarge in the Session that we have just completed; on the contrary, there were relatively few guillotines. I cleave to the point that I made. In practice, a timetable motion that would achieve, with or without the involvement of other parties, the security of the handling of business that the right hon. Gentleman probably has in mind, would look so much like a guillotine as to be, effectively, a guillotine under another name. I believe that that would present real difficulties.

It follows from our approach to timetabling that we also thought it right to adopt a similar, if one likes, "usual channels" approach to sittings. During the debate on 13 July 1992, I expressed the Government's support for the principle of a 10 o'clock finish as the norm, but expressed doubts about the rigidity of the solution that the Select Committee had proposed. I also made it clear that the Government accepted the Committee's aim that completely new business should not be scheduled to start after 10 o'clock. That remains our position.

Accordingly, rather than have new arrangements entrenched in Standing Orders, or for that matter Sessional Orders, the Government are undertaking this evening, as part of the agreement, to use their best endeavours to avoid late sittings whenever possible and to avoid taking highly contentious business on Thursday evenings, particularly on the Thursdays before the Fridays that are to be designated under the fourth motion on the Order Paper. It would not be practicable to guarantee a 7 o'clock end to all business on those Thursdays, as that would bring us very close to a three-day week for Government business for 10 weeks of the year; but I emphasise that we shall none the less do our best to ensure that parliamentary demands on Members on Thursday evenings are kept within reasonable bounds, so that their other commitments on Fridays can be given some protection.

In the same spirit, the Government will use their best endeavours, as I have perhaps shown already, to give early notification of the dates of recesses. The House will understand that particular difficulty is attached to the timing of the summer recess; it may not be possible to give as much notice of the dates of the summer recess as of other recesses, or to rise for the summer as early as we might wish. Again, my hopes are to move as far as possible in the direction of that which the Jopling Committee, and no doubt the House, would like.

The House is, of course, also concerned, as was the report, to see earlier notification of business generally. Some of the difficulties are obvious, certainly to anybody who has been involved, and perhaps to anybody who simply observes. They include the need to accommodate Opposition and European Scrutiny Committee requests for debates on the Floor, which may arise at short notice, uncertainty about the timing of business arising from proceedings in another place, and indeed the value that the House itself places on the capacity to reflect in the business, without too much delay, new issues that arise or developments that take place on existing issues.

Nevertheless—I hope that the House will accept the good faith with which I assure it of this—I am genuinely anxious to move as far as I possibly can to meet those wishes and will seek to do so in relation to advance notification of major debates. I must emphasise, however, that the more we move to meet that desire of the House, the more the House will need to give greater weight to such words as "provisional" and to phrases such as "subject to the progress of business", than it has hitherto been inclined to do, because there is undoubtedly a tendency to regard that as just going through the motions. The more we attempt to give advance notice of business, the more meaning will have to be attached to those phrases, and people would need to be willing to accommodate change in certain circumstances.

Before I come to the motions on the Order Paper, I shall refer briefly to a few other elements of the proposed reforms. We shall seek to take uncontentious business off the Floor of the House, by making greater use, by agreement, of Second Reading Committees. We also think that there is a case for considering whether we can reduce the quantity of parliamentary time that is consumed by what can be called set-piece debates, such as the debate on the Loyal Address and a number of other regular events during the year. But because of the wide range of interests in the House that would be affected by any proposed reduction, I suggest that the right course would be to ask my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) and his colleagues on the Procedure Committee to advise on how the demands made by set-piece debates might be slimmed down. Clearly, any proposals there would require widespread consultation going rather beyond the usual channels.

Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if the amount of time for scrutiny by way of formal parliamentary procedures were to be reduced, or if that were to be the assumption, if democratic accountability is not to suffer excessively, assistance should be given to scrutiny in other ways? Does he accept that the corollary of shorter hours, or fewer sitting days, should be a greater commitment by the Government to freedom of information as well as to more extensive consultation on Green Papers and draft clauses, and earlier exposure of Bills?

Mr. Newton

My hon. Friend raises a number of points. The Government have, of course, sought to improve access to information, although I understand that there are still issues that remain controversial. We have manifestly moved down the path of improving, as I would judge, consultation, not least in respect of consultation on draft clauses on Bills, which has been done within the relatively recent past on the Shops Bill and the environment agency part of the environment Bill. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence recently made it clear that he will publish an entire proposed reserve forces Act in draft within the next few months. While there may well be areas in which my hon. Friend would wish to see us move still further, I can point to a number of developments of which he should approve.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Newton

I will, but I am trying to keep my speech within the parameters requested of me.

Mr. Cormack

Surely all that is needed is for the Government to practise a self-denying ordinance and introduce less legislation.

Mr. Newton

If my hon. Friend examines the Queen's Speech with care, lie will realise that he has seen heavier Queen's Speeches in terms of the number of Bills. They are substantial Bills, but a considerable amount of time and effort was rightly given to presenting the House with a programme which, while large and important, takes account of the sort of pressures that my hon. Friend has just further exerted upon me.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman, but the changes will undoubtedly remove a great deal of private Members' time, which usually means private Members' Bills.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)


Mrs. Dunwoocly

The point made by some hon. Members is of great importance. If there is to be real scrutiny of Government legislation, it is important that we have not only access to a great deal of the information on which the legislation is based, but the right, if need be, to ask the Government to give evidence on it to the House at an early stage.

Mr. Newton

That is clearly a point on which, from the nature of his interjection, my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale may wish to comment. What the hon. Lady said about a reduction in time usually occupied by private Members is simply not true. In the Session that has just finished, the time used by private Members—this is a shorthand description—that is to be discontinued took up 123 hours, while regular Wednesday morning sittings in the same period would have provided 144 hours. That is a gain of 21 hours over the Session.

I want to conclude my remarks, as it is clear that many hon. Members are interested in taking part in the debate. The five motions on the Order Paper give effect to those elements of the agreed package of reforms that involve varying the Standing Orders for the duration of the experiment. As I said, those are Sessional Orders that will apply for the remainder of the present Session.

The first motion deals with a matter which, although not discussed in the Select Committee's report, will nevertheless make a modest contribution to improved working hours. It provides an expedited procedure for the consideration of uncontroversial law reform Bills, which I hope will be welcomed in all parts of the House. There has been a good deal of pressure, both here and in another place, for getting on with law reform measures.

For Bills that merely consolidate the existing law, it will be possible to omit the Committee stage altogether and the Third Reading will be taken without debate. Bills that reform the law in line with Law Commission recommendations will be automatically referred to a Second Reading Committee for consideration, unless a reasonable request is made that any particular Law Commission Bill should have its Second Reading debate on the Floor.

The second motion provides that a money or Ways and Means resolution taken immediately after the Second Reading of the Bill to which it relates will be decided forthwith. Free-standing money or Ways and Means resolutions will be debatable for 45 minutes. None of that, of course, affects the Budget resolutions, because they are not at that stage motions…in connection with a bill".

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I wonder whether, even at this stage, the Leader of the House would consider making that proposal voluntary. It would reduce substantially the rights of Back Benchers, especially those who are squeezed in a Second Reading debate. The safety valve is that one can always threaten to speak on the money resolution. My experience is that if we do that, it is surprising how the Whips manage to negotiate just a little bit of time to allow us Members to get in on the main debate. Why cannot the proposal be a voluntary restraint rather than an enforced one?

Mr. Newton

I can say only that, as far as is possible, we have sought to adopt the specific proposals of the Select Committee, which were endorsed in all parts of the House. That proposal was one of them and I think that it is reasonable to include it in the package.

The third motion provides in paragraph (1) that all affirmative statutory instruments will be automatically referred to a Standing Committee unless the Government table a motion to de-refer them. I assure the hon. Member for Dewsbury and her colleagues that the Government will accede to any reasonable request from the Opposition that an affirmative instrument be debated on the Floor. Paragraph (2) preserves the existing treatment of Church of England Measures. It also contains consequential provisions.

Paragraph (3) provides for a limit of one and a half hours on statutory instruments or European Community documents debated on the Floor, even if the debate begins before 10 o'clock. The special arrangements for deregulation orders, which the House approved on 24 November, are not affected by this change. As at present, debates on prayers that begin at or after 10 o'clock will finish at 11.30 pm.

Sir Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that while I warmly welcome the proposal, there is a strong feeling that not enough orders are debated? As they are to be sent automatically to Standing Committee, will he give some thought to the possibility that we can have better debates on more orders when there are sufficient names on the Order Paper?

Mr. Newton

I shall certainly give thought to my hon. Friend's point, but I hope that he will understand if I do not go further than that at this stage.

The two proposals taken together, that is, the normal referral of statutory instruments to Standing Committee and the fact that they can be debated for an hour and a half on the Floor at whatever time of day the debate starts—whereas at present if the debate starts at 4.30 pm, it can continue until 11.30 pm—will probably do more than any other to make a 10 o'clock finish to business the norm rather than the exception.

From time to time, it may be necessary to vary those arrangements by means of a business motion, for example, to allow a longer debate for a particularly important instrument, to provide for a joint debate on a group of related instruments, or to apply a time limit to a motion that was not covered by this provision. However, I say to the hon. Member for Jarrow that our aim will be to ensure that any such motion is agreed through the usual channels before being tabled, as we would always seek to do.

The fourth motion gives effect to the Jopling recommendation that time normally used by private Members—except private Members' Bills—should be transferred to Wednesday morning sittings. Paragraphs (1) and (2) provide for the designation of a number of Fridays on which the House will not sit. On those Fridays, the Table Office and the Public Bill Office—this may help some hon. Members—will be open and Members will be able to table questions and amendments. In a full Session—should the House decide to make the experiment permanent—there would be 10 such Fridays, as the report recommended, but as the period of the experiment is somewhat shorter than a full Session, the motion proposes that for the remainder of the present Session there should be eight.

For the benefit of those outside the House, those inside would like me to emphasise that those are in no sense Fridays off; they are days kept clear of specific duties here at Westminster to enable hon. Members to discharge equally important duties in their constituencies and elsewhere.

Paragraph (3) and the succeeding paragraphs provide for the House to meet at 10 o'clock on Wednesdays for a series of balloted Adjournment debates. Arrangements for those debates will be made informally under the kindly authority of you, Madam Speaker—at least, I hope that it will be kindly. It is envisaged that there should be one or two general debates in the three hours between 10 o'clock and 1 o'clock and three half-hour debates between 1 o'clock and 2.30 pm, when questions would begin. Those provisions will come into force early in the next parliamentary term, on the third Wednesday on which the House sits, that is, 25 January. That will allow enough time for the new arrangements to be put into operation.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Newton

I will give way, but I have now slightly exceeded my original allotted time and I want to bring my speech to a close fairly rapidly.

Mr. Spearing

I want to clear up an anomaly that may not have occurred to hon. Members. Paragraph (10) transfers motions on the Adjournment—and we had a very useful three hours of that this evening—-to a Wednesday. What is wrong with transferring the motion for the Adjournment for the appropriate recess to the Wednesday before the Adjournment, to keep together grievances before Adjournment and debate and decision, and the principle that a motion that is amendable should also be debatable? Otherwise, the separation of voice and vote is surely against parliamentary principle.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman is making a point which may be raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) and which is also, in a sense, related to an amendment, which was not selected, that was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton. It might be sensible for me to reserve further comment until the hon. Member for Walsall, North and my right hon. Friend have had an opportunity to make their points.

Paragraph (8) does away with the obsolete Standing Order that enables a late sitting to be suspended until 10 o'clock the following morning, which is clearly incompatible with regular morning sittings. Incidentally, I was barely aware of that provision myself until recently, and to my recollection it has never been used.

Paragraphs (9) to (11) dispense with the existing time available to private Members—for private Members' motions, Adjournment debates following the Consolidated Fund Bill and debates on motions fixing the dates of recesses—which is being transferred to Wednesday mornings. As a transitional measure, the "end of term" Adjournment debates that I announced in Thursday's business statement, which are not governed by any of the Standing Orders, will go ahead as planned.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

Will my right hon. Friend take up a request from many of us, relating to the giving of notice to the Table Office? Would it be possible for the Table Office, and other such departments, to accept questions by fax? Can we allow modern technology to be introduced into our offices?

Mr. Newton

The debate seems to be being used as a sort of Christmas tree—appropriately enough—on which to hang a variety of interesting suggestions. A possible use of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 would be to allow the Patent Office to take in material by electronic means rather than on pieces of paper; perhaps the House authorities will also consider my hon. Friend's suggestion. I would be rash to give her a snap yes, but I shall certainly ensure that what she has said is given careful consideration.

The final motion gives you, Madam Speaker, wider discretion to apply the 10-minute limit to speeches. It will be possible to apply the limit to any kind of public business and to all or any part of a debate, rather than just to two hours in the middle as at present. Inevitably—not least because of the interventions problem that has been demonstrated in the past few minutes—there will be exemptions for Front Benchers and for a minority party spokesman, but Front Benchers will strive to keep their opening speeches to a maximum of 30 minutes and their closing speeches to 20 minutes. I stress that that is more than just a formula. In practice, by agreement, most winding-up speeches have recently been limited to 20 minutes; we shall try to make that arrangement more formal.

I emphasise that the five motions—together with the other points agreed between Government and Opposition, which I described earlier—are designed, like the Select Committee's report on which they are based, as a balanced package to protect the legitimate interests of Government, Opposition, minority parties and Back Benchers. As with all proposals of that kind, their success will depend to a significant extent on the good will of all involved. I do not mean just Front Benchers, but I do refer to them particularly—again, I am looking hard in a certain direction.

Provided we have that good will, we shall have taken a significant step forward in assisting the more sensible management of our affairs. I commend the proposals to the House.

8.3 pm

Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

I welcome the debate, and the general thrust of the package proposed by the Leader of the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) was right in saying that it did not bear his fingerprints; I know that he, and a few other hon. Members on both sides of the House, are very concerned about the possibility of any change in our procedures. In my view, however, the changes that we are discussing do not constitute a dramatic revolution. I believe that they are no more than a useful step forward, making Parliament more efficient and, we hope, more effective.

Let me echo the tribute paid by the Leader of the House to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown), both of whom played a considerable part in agreeing the package through the usual channels. As the Leader of the House said, it is both a package and an experiment from which the whole House should expect to learn in the forthcoming year.

The Leader of the House has agreed that the procedures in the package will be reviewed in October. I think that we shall need some flexibility during the year to allow modification of practice; indeed, I suspect that over that time conventions of which we are not yet aware will develop, as that is how our procedures have always come about.

I do not believe that these proposals are the last word in terms of making the Government more accountable, scrutinising the Executive or any of our other functions. We all know that the press tends to see the workings of the House as the Government trying to put their business through and the Opposition trying to frustrate that objective; no doubt many people consider that the be-all and end-all of Parliament.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

That is the point.

Mrs. Taylor

It is one point, but we have wider responsibilities to scrutinise and even try to improve legislation, although we may disagree with its basic objective.

One of our responsibilities today is to ensure that any proposed procedural changes do not damage the opportunities that are available not only to the Opposition officially, but to all Back Benchers, to scrutinise what the Executive does. There are legitimate concerns that we shall have to consider in the coming year. I know some of my hon. Friends believe that the interests of Front Benchers and those of Back Benchers are not always the same. We must be conscious of the need to ensure that Back Benchers' rights are a reality, and not to undermine their long-term position—although I would argue that it is still extremely difficult for Back Benchers to scrutinise in the way that we would like.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said, and the spirit in which she has said it. Does she agree, however, that there is no need to balance the opportunities of Back Benchers to debate amendable motions— or, indeed, to contribute in any way—with the sitting hours of the House? Surely the two are 'not connected. The House can sit when it decides to do so; surely the procedures for private Members are separate.

Mrs. Taylor

My point is that if we are changing our procedures and our sitting hours we should be careful not to take any action that would detract from Back Benchers' rights. I do not think that the package damages those rights.

We must remember that change in one area will always have a knock-on effect in another. That is why it is important for us to conduct an experiment rather than changing the Standing Orders themselves. The Jopling report may be a starting point, but I do not accept every dot and comma in it, and I know few hon. Members who do; nor do I think that we should pursue the question of our working hours simply to try to enable Members of Parliament to work fewer hours. I do not believe that that is the objective of the report, or of today's proposals.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I therefore hope that my hon. Friend will make it clear that some of us sit in Committee on Wednesday mornings. The idea that moving work from Friday to Wednesday will somehow improve the position may turn out not to be the case. Many of us are minded to vote against the amendments simply because we are old fashioned enough not to believe that we came here to improve the Government's legislation, which we believe in most instances to be beyond redemption.

Mrs. Taylor

The legislation that my hon. Friend and I would agree is beyond redemption is the sort of legislation that we shall repeal and replace after the next election. In the meantime, however, we have a duty and responsibility to protect our constituents' interests as much as possible by minimising the damage done by legislation with which we disagree. Select Committees sit on Wednesday mornings, but there are always different calls on the time of Members of Parliament. Standing Committees frequently sit on a Tuesday and Thursday afternoon while the House sits.

Select Committees sit almost every afternoon while the House is sitting. All hon. Members have problems in terms of balancing their time.

Mr. Skinner

What about Fridays?

Mrs. Taylor

Many hon. Members need to use Fridays, as far as possible, for constituency work. That is not always the case for London-based Members, who can get to their constituencies during the week, but it is extremely important for northern or non-London-based Members to use Fridays as a constituency day.

I shall deal briefly with the specific proposals because, as the Leader of the House said, I do not think that Front-Bench Members should hog the debate. The remit of the Jopling Committee was not to revolutionise the workings of the House of Commons. Its remit was narrow.

On changes to the time provided for private Members' legislation, I emphasise to my right hon. and hon. Friends the points that were made earlier. The total time available for private Member's Bills will be no less than it is now. Hon. Members who took part in the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill, which yet again went through the night, must acknowledge that they would not lose anything if that sort of debate took place on a Wednesday morning. It is important for non-London Members, in particular, to be able to use Fridays with some certainty and to be able to plan ahead, which is not always possible now.

My hon. Friends are somewhat too concerned about the loss of end of term Adjournment debates such as the one that we had earlier. It is important that the House should have safety valves and that hon. Members have the opportunity to raise subjects and urgent issues that they have not be able to raise in other ways. The suggestion in the amendment tabled by the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), is important. I put that suggestion to the Leader of the House following discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). There is no reason why the last Wednesday of any term could not be used for the same sort of debate as we had earlier.

Mr. Bennett

Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the important things is that such debates are a right? Under present procedure, any Back Bencher who wants to raise an issue has almost a guarantee that, on an Adjournment motion, he can get up and make a fuss. If one takes that right away from Back Benchers, they will have to consider actions outside Standing Orders, such as standing by the Mace and generally disrupting the place. That is not in anyone's interests. We should therefore keep the safety valves.

Mrs. Taylor

I agree that having safety valves is far preferable to people standing by the Mace or using other procedures. That is why it is worth considering the possibility—I do not see why this should not happen—of using the last Wednesday in the way that I explained. We could do so this year as an experiment. If it worked, we could consider ways of writing it into Sessional Orders or even Standing Orders. I hope that that is one issue from which we shall learn something and on which we shall make progress this year.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I know that my hon. Friend has done a great deal of work on this—although I disagree with some of the conclusions, I would not want to take that away from her—does she not realise that, if we abolish the sort of debate that we had before the present debate, it will take away an important right and, moreover, the ability to vote against the motion, as hon. Members have done on many occasions?

If my hon. Friend did not hear the courageous speech made an hour or so ago by the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss), I am sure that she will read it. Such a speech may be out of order if the amendment, which has not been selected, is accepted. The Chair would have to consider what was and was not relevant. It would be an unfortunate step if we took away the basic right to debate matters before we agreed to go into recess and the right to vote on the matter. I hope that my hon. Friend, for whom I have a great regard, will think seriously about that.

Mrs. Taylor

I have said that I am concerned that safety valves should not be lost and that we should learn during this year whether having the final Wednesday for that sort of debate would be practical. We might be able to make progress on that through discussion. That is one of the reasons why it is important that the proposals are experimental. We can learn what works, where hon. Members feel frustration about things that have changed, and where we need modification of the proposals. I emphasise to my hon. Friend that we are changing not the Standing Orders but the sessional orders of the House. On that basis, I hope that he will consider that the changes are not so dramatic as some people may have suggested.

I know that some of my hon. Friends are worried about the changes to statutory instruments, but the assurances given again today by the Leader of the House are extremely helpful. The rights of Back Benchers are again an issue of genuine concern. It is one thing for Back Benchers to influence what their political party says through the usual channels in terms of asking for a debate on the Floor of the House, but it would be a loss to exclude all mechanisms for Back Benchers to force a debate on a statutory instrument on to the Floor of the House.

I have had discussions, but we have not yet developed a mechanism that would be an adequate trigger. I know that previous discussions were held on the matter. We shall have to monitor the issue during the experimental period. We do not want to build discontent among Back Benchers by excluding statutory instruments about which they are concerned but which Front-Bench Members do not think are so important.

We should use the rest of this parliamentary Session to experiment in more positive ways of scrutinising statutory instruments in Committee. I have been impressed by the changes that have taken place in some Committees. In the European Scrutiny Committee, for example, Ministers can be questioned before a short debate. I know that that position is not ideal. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) raised a valid point last Wednesday, I believe, about the coincidence of a debate in Committee and a debate on the Floor of the House. Problems of that sort must be avoided. The Standing Orders of the House must be considered again to deal with that sort of problem, which should not have arisen as it did last week. We should be looking to give hon. Members better opportunities for better quality scrutiny of statutory instruments in Committee.

On Ways and Means resolutions and money resolutions, I have no concerns in relation to the proposals to take money resolutions on the nod immediately after Second Reading, so long as any separate money resolution can be debated in the normal way. That is important. However, the suggestions relating to Ways and Means resolutions will be rather more in need of monitoring during the year.

I do not see how anyone could object to a voluntary timetable for Standing Committees. My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow, the Deputy Chief Whip, said that such a system has operated for the past couple of years, and often successfully. If there is a breakdown, it is often because positions are entrenched. That problem could still arise. I have serious reservations about any move towards automatic guillotines. Although some hon. Members want us to move in that direction, I do not regard this agreement as a precursor for such a move.

As for the other matters under discussion, such as Law Commission Bills and consolidation Bills, I do not know of anyone who objects to the proposals, so I hope that they will not be contentious. I regard the increased discretion that it is suggested should be available to you, Madam Speaker, as definitely a move in the tight direction, especially if it means that limitations will be placed on the time that Front-Bench spokesmen are allowed.

The amendments examining mechanisms by which injury time could be given to any hon. Member who accepts and responds to interventions are especially important. If, in a full day's debate, hon. Members spoke for 10 minutes in set-piece mode and refused interventions which would reduce their speaking time, it would reduce the spontaneity of our debates and create a wholly different atmosphere, which would not be conducive to good scrutiny of legislation or good debate. Whether or not the amendments are discussed specifically this evening, I hope that it will be possible for the issue of injury time to be considered, because it would benefit the House.

Mr. Bennett

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mrs. Taylor

This is the last intervention that I shall accept.

Mr. Bennett

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is especially important that Ministers give way because the more their allotted time is reduced, the greater the temptation for them to refuse to do so? As we know, it is when Ministers give way that we often obtain important information.

Mrs. Taylor

I agree, and I believe that limiting Ministers to 30 minutes is at least better than the original suggestion of 20 minutes, which would certainly have been an excuse for them to refuse to give way. We should still expect Ministers to give way, and such important conventions are worth protecting.

The Leader of the House and I have had several discussions about the announcement of future business. Clearly, if the changes are accepted, some of the House's business will become more obvious in advance. We shall know, for example, when Bills will leave Committee and it will be helpful to us all if we know when economic, defence or set-piece debates are to take place. However, I believe that the Leader of the House should be in a position to announce not only the business for the following week but the provisional business for at least the week after that. The House should accept that it was provisional and might be subject to change, occasionally at the request of the Opposition. The House would then accept that any change was made for good reason. That would be extremely helpful to everyone involved.

I said that the proposed changes are not dramatic or revolutionary, but that they can help the House to work more efficiently. As hon. Members have said, we need to examine our procedures and make changes to, for example, procedures relating to statements, the possibility of having written parliamentary questions during the recess and freedom of access to information, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth). They are all very important issues and although the proposed changes are not the last word on any of our proceedings they are constructive and can help the House to work more efficiently and effectively.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. I cannot impose a limit of 10 minutes at this stage, but I hope that hon. Members will exercise voluntary restraint.

8.24 pm
Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

The House will recall that I had the honour of being the Chairman of the Select Committee on Sittings of the House. It has been said that the Committee's report was the father of these proposals; in that case, the grandfather was my right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) who is sitting next to me and who was the Leader of the House on whose initiative the Committee was set up.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) on her fine speech. It is two and a half years since the Select Committee reported. We had a debate before the previous election and there was broad support for the report's recommendations. We had another after the election and there was even greater support, backed by an early-day motion tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) and signed by 215 other hon. Members. The House now sighs with relief that some proposals are at last being discussed; members of the two Front-Bench teams have got down to some serious business and reached an agreement.

It is lamentable that it has taken the House so long to decide how to manage its own affairs. That might have something to do with the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), who made an extraordinary statement at the beginning of the debate. He said that there were usual channels within usual channels. I used to be part of that system and I must say that I had no experience at all of what he was talking about. It would be very dangerous for the House were there to be usual channels within the usual channels—the House could not work like that. However, in the Christmas spirit, let us welcome the proposals introduced by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

I believe that the proposals that we are debating today and the announcement made by the Leader of the House last week in a written answer amount to about 85 per cent acceptance of the Select Committee's proposals. Those changes, coupled with certain procedures, can be said to be the most wide-ranging reform of the sittings of the House in the second half of the 20th century. They are as important as that and will greatly affect the way in which the House brings itself up to date.

In a way, the two-and-a-half year delay has meant that the proposals now receive even broader support in the House than they did when they were produced. The process reminds me of my annual practice of making sloe gin at home—it takes six months to make the stuff but the longer one leaves it, the better it tastes. However, that is incidental.

I shall not weary the House by relating the contents of the Select Committee's report that the Government have not taken up and that have not been embraced by the usual channels, but I must mention what is undoubtedly the most important omission in the proposals, which is the Select Committee's recommendation that a timetable be placed on all Government Bills. I know that this has always been the background to the major causes of non-agreement between members of the two Front-Bench teams.

The better management of Bills has been recommended by the Procedure Committee for a good many years, but nothing much has happened. Of course, we all know in our hearts that there are times when hon. Members of all parties use the procedures, for reasons that I well understand, to indulge in time wasting. It is a long-standing and well-known technique which all Oppositions, and some Governments, have used. I have been party to it myself, in government and in opposition, so I am familiar with it. Anything we can do to eliminate unnecessary time wasting is in the interests of the business of the House.

Sir Jerry Wiggin

My right hon. Friend has had long experience here and has admitted taking part in such practices on both sides of the House. Can he recall more than one or two occasions on which, at the end of the day, the legislation was in any way altered?

Mr. Jopling

Rarely indeed. That was a point that the Select Committee, in its unanimous proposals, had very much in mind. Very rarely do such techniques amount to very much—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Of course I can think of changes that have happened as a result of such techniques, but they have happened rarely and in our hearts we all know that.

Since the Select Committee started its deliberations three years ago, we have had many more timetable motions. When I was a business manager here in the early 1980s, I was absolutely determined that the Government should never exceed in a year the number of guillotines that Michael Foot produced in that famous one night—as I recall, he introduced five. Nowadays, that is all history.

The House has changed its mood and it has gone very much in the direction of accepting timetable motions. When I arrived here 30 years ago, there was tumult in the House whenever the Leader of the House proposed a guillotine motion. That is all in the past. The hon. Member for Dewsbury made a point with which I strongly agree. The Government have within their gift the right to apply a guillotine whenever they want. It is crucial, however, that they do not abuse that right. I say that to Ministers and to Opposition Front-Bench Members, and it applies to any party in government.

I shall now deal with the motions. I fully agree with motion No. 2 on consolidation Bills. Motion No. 3 concerns money resolutions and Ways and Means resolutions. There was a unanimous view in the Select Committee that endless debates on Ways and Means resolutions until a closure motion was moved and three-quarters-of-an-hour debates on money resolutions, although sometimes important, were nearly always unnecessary and often time-wasting.

The reform on statutory instruments is overdue. It is right that statutory instruments should go into Committee automatically, with agreement between the usual channels, and that they should be taken on the Floor, whether under the negative or affirmative procedure, if the Opposition especially want that. That must be right. However, I do not want my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, once the motion has been accepted, to propose that statutory instruments should be taken after a Second Reading debate, thus starting at 10 pm. That would be totally against the spirit of what he has said and of what the Select Committee has said.

Mr. Newton

indicated assent.

Mr. Jopling

I see my right hon. Friend nodding his head. I hope that I can take it from that that the Government will not normally propose that statutory instruments should be taken after business has finished at 10 pm.

Motion No. 5, on the sittings of the House, closely follows the recommendations of the Select Committee on Friday and Wednesday sittings. I warmly support the proposal. I also support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), which has not been selected. He proposes that there should be no ministerial statements on Wednesday mornings. Such timing would be totally against the spirit of the Select Committee's proposal and I hope that the Leader of the House will tell us that that will not happen. Such statements should remain at 3.30 pm.

I do not agree with the hon. Member for Walsall, North—I have had the pleasure of talking to him about this—about the three-hour recess Adjournment debate. The Select Committee made a close study of private Members' business. We added up the number of hours taken on private Members' motions, on the Consolidated Fund Bill, which goes through the night, on three-hour Adjournment debates, such as the one that we have just finished, and on the debates on the final day before the recess, such as that which we shall have tomorrow. We took the average number of hours for such private Members' business and we discovered that it was almost identical to having a four-and-a-half-hour sitting on Wednesday mornings between 10 am and 2.30 pm. We proposed, therefore, taking all that private Members' business out and putting it on Wednesday mornings. The hon. Gentleman's proposal that we should still have the three-hour Adjournment debate would upset the arithmetic, and I would be opposed to that.

I am very much more attracted by the proposal by my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) that, on the Wednesday before a recess, we should have a similar debate. One could perfectly well structure it so that we could have, as the first motion, the motion for the Adjournment of the House for whatever recess it is. That would allow us for three hours in the mornings, between 10 am and 1 pm, as my right hon. Friend has suggested, to have the sort of debate—which I believe is very valuable and I bow to nobody in that—that we have just finished.

Mr. Spearing

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) will, I think, reply to the point about the Adjournment. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that what he has done, irrespective of the arithmetic, which fits, is to substitute a debate on the Adjournment on Wednesday for debates on specific motions? Irrespective of the fact that motions can be voted on and are amendable, that reduces the opportunities for private Members.

Mr. Jopling

The hon. Gentleman has got it a bit wrong. The proposal by the hon. Member for Walsall, North would provide 12 hours more of private Members' time than we have now; that goes against the feeling that we want a balance between Back Bench and Front Bench. His proposal would upset that. I hope very much that the House does not agree with the hon. Gentleman's amendment. I hope that when we come back to the matter in a year's time, an amendment similar to that tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton will be tabled and that we can vote on it. I shall certainly support it.

The hon. Member for Dewsbury raised the matter of safety valves. I was educated a great deal in my life by my great friend Lord Cocks, who was the Labour Chief Whip when I was Government Chief Whip. He used to say to me how vital it was to maintain in the House the right for people to let off steam—safety valves. That is why the Select Committee did not want to change what is, in my view, the somewhat absurd practice of allowing hon. Members to introduce ten-minute Bills in July when they know that they have no chance of getting them through. It is an important safety valve and therefore it is a good thing.

That is also why the Select Committee was not in favour of changing motions under Standing Order No. 20, to which the House is accustomed at 3.30 pm. Those safety valves are crucial and I am very much in favour of preserving such opportunities. I strongly approve, therefore, of the theory of having debates such as the three-hour debate we have just had, although they should be held on Wednesday mornings. I think that we can accommodate that at some time.

I agree with mot ion No. 6 on short speeches. However, I hope that the Speaker will make those views known to long-winded Ministers when they go on and on just because some minor official in their Department has said to them, "But Minister, it is very important to get these things on the record." It is a pain in the neck for the House when Ministers do that. We all know that, being Ministers, they will do that.

It is important that Ministers do not come to the House with 40-minute speeches and then plough through them. I hope that—if I may say this because my amendment has not been selected—in future, when Ministers open debates with speeches of more than 30 minutes, they will be continually interrupted, if not by the Chair, by Back-Benchers reminding them of the answer given on Thursday by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, that Ministers should confine themselves to 30 minutes. We ought to hassle Ministers who go on in that way.

Of course, it would be wrong—let me say this quite clearly—as I am sure that the hon. Member for Jarrow would understand, to tie Ministers absolutely firmly to a 20-minute winding-up speech, because that is obviously a procedural man-trap. If the Opposition spokesman sat down early and left 35 minutes before 10 o'clock, when the division was timed to take place, and the Government spokesman could speak for only 20 minutes, problems would arise. We cannot get trapped into that sort of country.

I shall sum up by reminding the House—

Mr. Skinner

That is 16 minutes.

Mr. Jopling

I am taking advantage of the last of the old days. When the new regime comes in, I shall be the first to obey the rules.

I remind the House that we meet on more days and for more hours than any other Parliament in any large democracy in the world. The public, frankly, cannot understand why we have to sit often half the night and sometimes all the night. The proposals will go some way—the hon. Member for Dewsbury was right—to streamlining our procedures. Above all, unlike the ill-fated Crossman proposals of the 1960s, which I remember very well, I believe that the proposals will be broadly acceptable to the House, and I hope very much that they will stand the test of time and practice.

8.41 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I beg to move amendment (b), in motion No. 5, leave out paragraph (10).

I would be happier in my own mind if tonight there were to be a genuine free vote. There is indeed a free vote for Labour Members, but, as I understand it, that is not so for Government Members. A payroll vote has been mobilised, there is apparently a two-line Whip. While I hope that a number of Conservative Members on the Back Benches will indeed exercise a free vote, it is unfortunate that we are faced once again with a payroll vote. It is not a very good preface to the supposed new regime.

I recognise the wish on the part of a number of hon. Members, Labour Members included, for changes in the time that we sit. I certainly do not look on colleagues who want such a change as if they were lazy and wanting a nice, quiet life. Indeed, if anything, on the whole, Members of Parliament are more likely to be workaholics than lazy types. The very thing that brings people into politics, in local authorities and professional politics, is a desire to be active.

Indeed, many hon. Members not only do an active job here, but carry a pretty hefty constituency case load. At times—perhaps, this is just my view—it would probably do us all good if we left more time for reading and reflecting. That is not an argument for sitting less time, let me quickly tell the Leader of the House. But it would do no harm sometimes for us to reflect on various matters, as that would help us in our daily work.

We are not alone in having somewhat odd hours. Sometimes, some hon. Members give the impression that only we lead a difficult life; the hours are so odd and strenuous and so on. Many of us, of course, were members of a local authority and we should not forget that many people on both sides of the political divide carry out local authority work and related work on four evenings a week, after their ordinary work. We are not the only people in politics who have somewhat difficult hours.

Of course, if one leaves aside politics, imagine the number of people in the country who work anti-social hours and who have no alternative.

Mr. Skinner

What about those down the pits?

Mr. Winnick

My hon. Friend talks of people who work in the pits. Imagine the number of people who do boring and monotonous, as well as very poorly paid work. Indeed, the way in which deregulation has worked in the past few years has meant that far more anti-social hours are worked. People do not have the—how shall I describe it—pleasing political environment of the House of Commons in which to work. So, for heaven's sake, let us keep things in perspective. We work difficult hours and it causes a strain on family life, but, in the main, as I have said, hon. Members are not the only ones who are in this position. Do not let us make martyrs of ourselves.

Mr. Cormack

It is probably a good idea to put on the record that an awful lot of hon. Members are in their offices as early as 8 o'clock in the morning, as well as being here as late as 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock at night. The hon. Gentleman is one of them, I know, and so am I.

Mr. Winnick

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. There is a danger, when we talk about constituency Fridays, that we give the impression that those are the only Fridays which we devote to constituent's duties. I am one of those hon. Members, and I am sure that there are many more, who for various reasons, apart from any Friday constituency work, carry out regular surgeries on Saturday mornings. I do so because it is part of the political culture in my area. If I started to hold them at a different time, be it on Monday evenings, which would be most inappropriate to say the least, or on Friday evenings, the people who may wish to see me may have various difficulties in making a Friday evening, if only because of some of the anti-social hours of which I have been speaking.

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood)

I was glad that my hon. Friend finally mentioned the question of strains on family life. It is rather odd that we spend much of our time in this place talking about the importance of family life and the need to reconcile it with other activities, when the way in which we work here is ruinous to family life. The reforms proposed do not improve the matter one jot, at least not for those Members who live outside London and who already carry heavy constituency loads on Fridays.

Mr. Winnick

I appreciate the strain on family life, as I have said, but my hon. Friend must understand that there are sacrifices—if that is the appropriate word—in all that we do. Service people, be they officers, non-commissioned people or in the ranks, lead the sort of life which is a strain on family life. They can be away from their families too, for example, when serving in Northern Ireland and elsewhere.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Winnick

In a moment.

What about the many people who work in the various emergency services who, by the very nature of their jobs, are away from their family lives? All I am saying is that, while I recognise the point made by hon. Friend, we are not alone. There are all kind of strains, which can be even greater when the work involves very poor pay. However, I do not dispute my hon. Friend's basic point.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. May I point out, having been here for nearly 30 years, and after long experience of politicians of all parties, that it sometimes seems that their marriages hold together much better when their spouses see as little of them as possible?

Mr. Winnick

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend speaks from personal experience or otherwise, but I gladly note her point.

Ms Walley

Does my hon. Friend agree that the last thing on earth that this place wants is elected members who have no families, who have no contact with their constituencies and have no idea what is going on in the world outside? That is why we have to do something to change the way in which we conduct our business.

Mr. Winnick

I do not know whether this is all injury time, but I say to my hon. Friend simply that perhaps—I have the greatest respect for her, as she knows—there are differences. From the Government's point of view, they would be quite happy if we sat less and if we did far more in our constituencies. Of course they would be happy. Perhaps, if we, as Labour Members, were the Government, we would be happy in the same way if the Tory Opposition Members of Parliament sat less.

This is our place of work. If we decide to be elected, it is in this place above all where we have to carry out our main work. If we work on the assumption that the strain is too much—I am not in any way being critical of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) as family life is far more important—one would inevitably question whether this is the right place of work for them. Surely there is no way in which professional politics can be conducted other than that. I ask again, what about councillors? Is there no strain on their family life?

Ms Walley

I accept that there might be certain excesses, but we must have a balance with the constituency, with this place of legislation and with our families.

Mr. Winnick

I think that we shall have to agree to disagree in some respects.

It is important to understand that, in this place, time is a weapon, and an important one. It is obviously especially important for the Opposition of the day and for individual Back-Bench Members, including Government Back Benchers. That is why I have reservations about some of the proposals. It is suggested that we shall leave the House at a certain hour and that many Bills will be timetabled, for example. We are in great danger of giving the Government a weapon.

The right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) said that he could cite very few examples of concessions having been given by Governments. I disagree. I would not wish to exaggerate and say that concessions are frequently given, but when the Government of the day are under sustained pressure and when time is our only weapon to force the Government to accept an accommodation—the same situation applies when the Opposition are Conservative—it is a weapon of considerable importance.

We are in danger of denying ourselves an important weapon. That is why I have many reservations about the proposals. It is all very well saying, "Yes, let's all be tidy and ensure that we finish at 7 o'clock. We shall timetable Bills and we shall not sit late." It would be wrong to take that course if, by so doing, we denied ourselves the important weapon of time. That is why I considered it necessary to table amendment (b).

Before the House goes into recess, we should have the opportunity to debate matters that concern us. Such debates should not be treated as formalities. We should not merely agree to a recess motion. Hon. Members should have the opportunity to air their grievances. If it is said that my remarks are inappropriate and that I am being too conservative, let me give two examples from our proceedings this afternoon.

The hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss) is no longer in his place—I do not criticise him for that, especially after his speech—but it was clear that he had an important point to make. He believed that he had a constitutional right as a Member to do what he did over the recent vote on VAT. He made his point, and it would have been difficult for him to do so without the opportunities that the previous debate provided. Of course, it may have been embarrassing for the Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) talked about Spain's treatment of Gibraltar. Not every hon. Member may have agreed with him, but surely it was right that, before leaving this place for the Christmas recess, my hon. Friend should be able to express his concern and to argue that the situation should be urgently considered. He is concerned about what may happen between now and our return to this place after the recess. I implore the Leader of the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), who is his shadow, whether or not my amendment is carried—I have referred already to the payroll vote—not to remove the basic right to discuss such matters.

The right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), who chairs the Procedure Committee, of which I am a member, has tabled an amendment which in some ways deals with my point. It would provide for a series of Adjournment debates, but they would not be within the framework of a motion for the recess, on which we could vote. That is crucial.

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Winnick

I think that my hon. Friend will probably have the opportunity—

Mr. Skinner

Look at the time. There are others who want to speak.

Mr. Winnick

I hope that my amendment will be supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I have read a great deal of nonsense recently about the supposed weaknesses of this place. We have been told that we are outdated and out of touch. Such criticism should be directed at the Government and not at the House. Our parliamentary democracy has served the British people well over the centuries, but I suppose it could be said that we have only had real parliamentary democracy for less than 100 years.

The House of Commons is an important place and an important institution. When I read what some of our critics write, I think to myself, "How long would their civil liberties last—five minutes?—if it were not for this place?" I take much pride in this place because I believe that all our freedoms are centred on it and on the way in which we carry on our business. We should not forget that. I do not take that pride because I have been a Member of the House for many years.

We have seen dictatorships crumbling throughout Europe and elsewhere and in the past we heard people say, "That is the future." I then look at this place. The dictatorships go but we carry on. We survive because the House is so essential for the country. Whenever changes take place—no doubt they are important—they should not be at the expense of the right of Members to raise issues that concern them and to vote upon them. We should be able to use time as a weapon against the Government of the day. That is part of our procedure, or it should be. It is part of our parliamentary democracy, and that is why I have the reservations that I have expressed.

8.56 pm
Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)

Like the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), I used to believe in the use of time as an effective weapon for the Opposition. The more one studies that view, however, the more ineffective a weapon it has proved to be for Oppositions over the past 30 years. The only occasions when I can recall Oppositions successfully using 'the weapon of time were the famous occasions of reform of the other place and proposed Scottish devolution legislation. Those Bills were considered in Committee on the Floor of the House. I understand that Bills so discussed in Committee are exempt from any of the proposals that are set out in the report of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling). I think that the importance of the weapon of time is exaggerated, but I understand why the hon. Member for Walsall, North made the point.

The intervention of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) summed up the dilemma in which the House finds itself. If the result of the proposed reforms is to make the Executive more powerful, they will not have fulfilled their aims. On the other hand, the hon. Lady is right to say that if we can find a modified and effective way of scrutinising the Executive, why should hon. Members have to put up with appallingly late nights and inconvenient lives? Our life is bound to be inconvenient to some extent, but not necessarily to the extent that it is now.

I was reading earlier debates on these matters a few hours ago before this debate began. I read a speech by the late Dr. John Blackburn. In July 1991, he drew attention to the effect on Members' health of our present arrangements. How right, alas, he proved to be. There are many examples of hon. Members in ill health having to attend the House late at night.

Surely tonight we are not settling the Standing Orders of the House once and for all. If the experiment which is to be carried out for the next few months is a success, no doubt the House will wish to endorse it. On the other hand, if it is a great failure, I suspect that the experiment will not be renewed next Session. There must be a debate. We are talking about Sessional Orders which lapse unless they are renewed by the House at the beginning of the next Session. The experiment is absolutely essential if we are to make any changes. No one believes that the way in which we organise the House of Commons at the moment is ideal.

Of course we have fewer late sittings than we had years ago. Until very recently, the average time at which the House rose did not vary very much. I believe that it probably went down last Session very considerably. However, for a very long period it was static and, for a longer period before that, it was much later. I do not believe that that had a noticeable effect on the way in which the House of Commons scrutinised the Executive, and I do not believe that the House will regret the loss of such late nights.

The hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright) said that most of the proposals do not help hon. Members who live outside London. It is extremely difficult to find proposals which help those who have constituencies near or in London and those who live miles away. The two interests are inevitably divergent. Those who live miles away would like to get away to their constituencies on a Thursday and perhaps return to the House later on a Monday. Those who live in or near London are probably just as interested in getting back home to their families—if they have them—at a reasonable hour in the middle of the week. Those two desires cannot be reconciled completely.

It seems that the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, and the acceptance by the Government, tries to make concessions to both points of view. It gives the provincial Member a chance to get back home earlier on a Thursday.

I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) in his new position to convey a message to the Leader of the House because I do not understand his proposal for Thursdays. I understand what is to happen on the Thursdays when we do not sit on Friday, but the report of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale recommends that even on Thursdays when we do sit on the Friday, the House should try to rise early. Is that the Government's plan? I should be grateful if that could be made clear.

The proposals are an extremely good compromise. There is an area towards which the Government have taken one step, but in respect of which I do not believe that they have not gone nearly far enough. I believe that it is quite intolerable that we are one of the very few Houses of Parliament where notice of business is given to Members at such short notice. The Government are taking steps to improve that. However, it is utterly ridiculous not to know until Thursday afternoon whether one can see someone in one's constituency on the Monday or Tuesday. Why cannot we know at least one week or even three weeks ahead what the business will be? If that means more changes to business than we are accustomed to, it would be well worth putting up with.

The same point applies to recesses. The Leader of the House has taken a step forward in that regard. It is welcome that we have been given more notice of recesses. It would be a great help to hon. Members—and perfectly practical—if my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House could go further than that and set out the major dates for a parliamentary Session when the Session begins, during the Queen's Speech, or very shortly afterwards.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, made that recommendation. No doubt he can confirm that such a procedure works very well in Commonwealth Parliaments such as those in Canada and Australia. They all said that it would be the end of the world, but it was not and now none of them would go back. I urge that that point is seriously considered.

Let us try this experiment. If we hate it, we can stop it. The House of Commons cannot just sit still and do nothing in the face of pressure among hon. Members of all parties for change and reform of our hours. This is a very good way of proceeding. Let us see whether it works and hope that it does.

9.2 pm

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

I hope that I can be as brief as the right hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon). I want to refer briefly to the changes that we are considering as they relate to minority parties. First, however, I add my tributes not just to the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) and his Select Committee for the original report, but to the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House for having cracked a very difficult problem which had created gridlock in respect of introducing the reforms over the past two and a half years.

I cannot understand why it has taken that length of time. We should consider these reforms as merely the beginning of an on-going process. The way in which politics is practised and the machinery of government change dramatically at an ever-increasing exponential pace. The experiences of the 1960s and 1970s are light years away from what we have to experience as hon. Members in the 1990s.

The House of Commons has an on-going duty to review the way in which the procedures of the House work. It was interesting that the Leader of the House confessed that there were bits and pieces of Standing Orders which he barely knew existed. I think that that is not an unusual experience for all of us. On the occasions when one reads the fine print of some of the Standing Orders, it is astonishing to see what they still contain. We would do the House no service if we ignored the fact that our parliamentary processes should be continuously scrutinised to see whether they are still relevant. We should excise those that become otiose and irrelevant. We do not do that nearly enough.

I welcome the package of measures, which were the result of careful negotiations between the Government and the Opposition parties. I am grateful for the consideration that the Liberal Democrats and the other minority parties were shown. We must do better. We should start now to consider what will happen after Jopling.

Whoever fell upon the idea of changing the Sessional Orders was a genius. As the right hon. Member for Southend, West has said, those orders lapse automatically unless they are renewed. I assume that the Leader of the House will allow a debate before the summer recess so that we can review them and that we do not need to go through the process of having a debate on the Sessional Orders in advance of next year's Queen's Speech. I am sure that the arrangements will become clearer as the debate unfolds.

We should start to look at what further and better changes could be made. More work needs to be done; other proposals must be made; and consultations must continue between the Government and the Opposition parties so that further changes can be considered after the ones before us now have been determined. In that way the progress made will be further extended. Some other proposals may be abandoned or confirmed, and so much the better for that. We must not think that tonight's proposals are the end of the story and give up searching for further improvements to the way in which business is dealt with in the House.

I agree with the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Dr. Wright) that one of the problems from which the House suffers is an unacceptable overload of business. We must confront that problem in the longer term. I do not think it is right that Parliament should just seek to digest everything that Departments throw at it in the Queen's Speech. Some machinery must be found and given effect to to try to equate what is attempted in the Government's annual legislative programme and the time available. That is absolutely essential. We should set up a business committee to consider the best practices of other legislatures, because a lot of them are way ahead of us in terms of following procedures suitable to modern democracies in the 1990s. We could learn a lot, for example, from the Canadian Parliament and other sister legislatures which have had some good ideas.

The usual channels are an essential part of the process. For the package of reforms to work in the spirit intended by the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale when his Committee published its report, the Government as well as the usual channels will have to exercise a lot of good faith. The usual channels can, however, be rather exclusive from the point of view of the minority parties. Although I am in favour of trying to get an agreed timetable on a voluntary basis within the usual channels, those consultations must extend to the minority parties if such an agreement is to be held by all the Opposition parties. If the two major parties—the Government and the Official Opposition—sit down and carve up an official timetable, they should not be surprised if the minority parties, which were not consulted in that process, do not sign up to the agreement struck. The need for wider consultation should be understood from the outset.

It is essential to the process of reform that private Members' time is protected. Unless the almost arithmetical formula explained by the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale is rigidly adhered to, the time allocated for private Members' business could begin to be lost. If that happened, the package of reforms would lose support from hon. Members on both sides of the House. I accept, however, that the fear about losing the weapon of use of parliamentary time, as well as other old-fashioned, out-of-date and unfounded fears have been dealt with in the proposed reforms. For that reason, I am prepared to give them my support. But I am prepared to consider the package only if it is a first step in a process that will continuously review procedures, including the volume of legislation, changes that could be introduced in terms of Special Standing Committees and all the other ideas that have been discussed.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have asked for notice of business more than a week in advance. It is essential that we get more order into the parliamentary calendar. That is possible, given the political will. The Leader of the House is sympathetic to that request and I know as well as he does that there are problems in implementing it. But if he could go some way towards continuing to develop that, he would have support from both sides of the House.

The package is fine in so far as it goes, but I hope that it is the start of a more detailed process in the long term.

9.10 pm
Mr. John MacGregor (Norfolk, South)

I am the former Leader of the House who set up the Jopling Committee, although I do not approve of the epitaph of my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) that I am the proposal's grandfather. Having just become a grandfather in the real sense, to add another would be an aging process.

I am delighted that so many of the Committee's recommendations are now being implemented and I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his Committee again on all the work that they did. I could not be more pleased that it is my right hon. Friend the present Leader of the House who is implementing so many of the recommendations. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) on her constructive and sensible approach. While the recommendations are wide ranging, in essence the package is practical—as one would expect, given the balance of the original Committee—and that is how we shall achieve 'our objectives.

I shall deal immediately with the criticism that the proposals are designed to fetter the Opposition or Back Benchers. That is plainly wrong for the following reasons. First, the real impetus behind setting up the Committee in the first place was, as I found in my first six months as Leader of the House, the frustration of many Members on both sides of the House about how the House carries out its business. Secondly, the composition of the original Committee shows that I endeavoured to make it representative of all sections of the House, and Back Benchers were more prominent than anyone who represented the Government.

Thirdly, it is important to recollect that Members' responses to the questionnaire showed that their biggest concern was late-night sittings, with 83 per cent. then—and, I suspect, more now—wanting a reduction in late-night sittings to be the priority. Those who argue that late-night sittings give time for many Back Benchers to express their views fail to recognise that the vast majority of their colleagues think otherwise. It is sometimes important to pay attention to what the vast majority on both sides of the House believe.

Fourthly, to those who have looked at overseas Parliaments, it is clear that we give much more time than any other Parliament in the world to the Opposition and to Back Benchers. If we compare the balance between Government, Opposition and Back Benchers' time before the recommendations with the balance after the impact of the recommendations, we see that the balance has not changed. The Committee was extremely careful to keep that balance as it was before, so there is no erosion of Back Benchers' rights.

We must all recognise the fact that there is much time-wasting in the name of parliamentary democracy, often late at night, which contributes little to parliamentary democracy. Our constituents certainly think that it does not contribute to parliamentary democracy and that we are mad to engage in it.

The Jopling report and its main recommendations reflect the right balance. The hon. Member for Dewsbury was right to put the emphasis on efficiency and effectiveness. We all know that this place has not been sufficiently effective in a number of areas. This package will enable it to become more so. I agree with the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) that there are other ways in which that can be achieved, including ways of achieving a more cost-effective operation of the House. We should reconsider the number of written questions that are tabled, but we should also consider many other matters. However, the changes that we are debating are important steps forward.

On timetabling, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale. I understand the problems that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House had, but I hope that what is being proposed is to formalise what is at present a very informal arrangement.

I have often felt that the problem of the way in which we deal with Bills is that as a result of the procrastination that sometimes takes place, for reasons that we all understand, later parts of Bills hardly receive any scrutiny—certainly not the scrutiny that they deserve. Timetabling of Bills enables both sides of the House to consider those parts of Bills that they believe to be the most important in the greatest detail. I believe, therefore, that the principle of timetabling is to the benefit of both sides of the House. That is why I hope that the process will become much more formal, and allow for the interests of minority parties to be taken into account.

On private Members' time and the shift from Friday business to Wednesday business, I shall make two arguments to reinforce what so many people have said, and what was clearly in the evidence to the Committee. In recent years, constituency pressures have become much greater on all of us and we have to undertake many duties in our constituencies which cannot be carried out at the weekend, such as visits to schools and factories—I speak as an hon. Member representing a rural constituency some distance from London. We may be willing to do those things on Saturdays, but our constituents are not, so it is important to have that time on a Friday.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacGregor

I do not want to give way because one or two other hon. Members want to speak.

People who are worried about the loss of Back Benchers' time should recognise that the move to Wednesdays enables the issues to be raised at peak time as far as the focus is concerned. Frankly, the Consolidated Fund Bill debates hardly ever receive any notice outside this place because of the hours at which they take place, but if Back Benchers speak on a Wednesday morning and Wednesday lunchtime I can imagine that many of those debates will be featured in the media for the rest of the day. That is a strengthening of Back Benchers' position, rather than the reverse.

I strongly support the automatic referral of statutory instruments, because I believe that the changes that we made in the previous Parliament on the European Standing Committees were a major reason why hours late at night were reduced for all Members of the House. I also believe that the changes led to better scrutiny of the European instruments because we all know that often the attendance in the Chamber is not great late at night.

I agree with other hon. Members about announcing the recesses in advance and endeavouring to announce at least two weeks of the business at any one time. As a former Leader of the House, I know well all the arguments against that. I know the pressures. I know that it is not easy to work out the business of the House each week. On the other hand, with determination, some of the difficulties can always be overcome and appear a great deal less than they do in advance. It makes it extraordinarily difficult for Members to plan diaries in the way that is done anywhere else if we have such short-term announcements. We must all accept that the second week is provisional, for reasons that many of us will well understand, but even if there are only one or two changes in a month in the provisional arrangements, that is a great advance.

I conclude with the two fundamental arguments that emphasise all the work of the Committee and the issues that we are discussing now.

First, the arrangements will not work properly without the co-operation and self-discipline of Members on both sides of the House. We all know that parliamentary procedures that have been built up over time are such that those people who are determined to exploit them will be able to do so. If we are genuinely to reduce late sittings, as the vast majority of hon. Members want, co-operation and self-discipline are needed—including, incidentally, the length of speeches.

I have listened with great interest to the argument that Front Bench speeches should be restricted to 30 minutes, but that hon. Members should also give way to plenty of interventions from Members on both sides of the House. There is a conflict in that argument. Some of the longest speeches that I have made from the Front Bench were largely the result of taking a large number of interventions, so there will have to be a certain amount of self-discipline in that respect also.

The second argument concerns the wider importance of what we are debating today. It is extremely important that we continue to attract people of high quality to serve in Parliament. There are many influences at work that are making that much more difficult. Many people now recognise that they must take a substantial cut in salary to serve in this place. Several issues which the Nolan committee will have to consider may have an influence on deterring people from coming to this place. Also, there is often media attention on the trivial rather than on the serious. There is, above all, a feeling that the hours that we work and the way in which we conduct our business do not make people decide that they will seek a place in this House.

I have in mind, in particular, women Members of Parliament. There are many other reasons why we do not have enough women Members. I strongly believe and have always advocated that we must endeavour to have more women Members, and I should very much like that to happen. The recommendations, not least in relation to late sittings, will greatly help us in attracting not only people of high quality to this place but, above all, more women who are willing to serve as Members of Parliament. That is why I hope that the House will accept the recommendations today.

9.20 pm
Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

I should like to explain why I intervened on the Leader of the House when he referred to the usual charnels. On three occasions he referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), who has had discussions with the right hon. Gentleman, and on another occasion he referred to myself. I want to make it clear that I was not involved in discussions between the usual channels; the discussions were rightly left to my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House. Twelve months ago I met the Leader of the House and other hon. Members, and we finished up with no agreement—needless to say. I speak on this occasion because I shall vote against some of the proposals, and I shall say why I oppose them.

I shall put two simple points to the House before I deal with the resolutions. First, the Government are elected to put legislation through the House. If there is any curtailment of debate on the Floor of the House, time will be taken from the Opposition or from Back-Bench Members. It is a simple fact. No one is suggesting that the Government, who are elected by the people, should not carry through the legislation in their manifesto. Hon. Members talk about cutting the hours of the House. Every Thursday at Business Questions I hear hon. Members ask the Leader of the House for statements, debates and so on.

Secondly—I speak now as Deputy Chief Whip—I see no reason why, halfway through a Parliament, when we have the Government on the ropes, we should give up any weapons. That is why I oppose one or two resolutions. If I am correct and the resolutions favour the Government, it would be best to have an objective debate and introduce the new practices after the next general election. The party which wins the next election would benefit from the resolutions.

We have had 21 Fridays off this calendar year. Apart from bank holidays and weekends, we have had 87 working days off. I do not know what hon. Members do if they do not want to speak to their constituents and become involved in constituency meetings. When I was elected originally in 1979, one could not move on a Friday for Conservative Back-Bench Members wanting to speak. What has changed? At that time, Conservative Back-Bench Members—geographically, it is easy for them to be here on Friday—had bigger majorities and did not need to go to their constituencies. Now, every Conservative Back Bencher has a marginal seat. Therefore, Conservative Members cannot come here on a Friday; they must go to their constituencies.

Also, the Government must have Conservative Members here on Fridays. On two occasions during the period of non-co-operation, when a Division was called, the Government could not provide a quorum. They could not provide 40 Members to be counted on a Friday. It is ironic that, not long ago, the House voted for Sunday trading. It was more or less said that every worker in the country should work on a Sunday—how hypocritical, when the House has met on only one Sunday this century.

I oppose abandoning the ways and means procedure, because it is a good tactic for Opposition Members. Indeed, in respect of Ways and Means resolutions, which are open-ended incidentally, the Government need 100 Members to force a closure after 10 o'clock. Clearly, the Government do not want to keep Tory Members here late at night, especially at a time when their morale is so low.

As for affirmative resolutions, Standing Order No. 101 states that any Back Bencher who wants a debate on a statutory instrument on the Floor of the House has only to get up and shout "Object", with the support of 20 hon. Members, to achieve that. That right is now to be taken away from Back Benchers under a cosy agreement made through the usual channels. Already, too much European legislation and too many instruments are stuck away upstairs, so I am not happy with that proposal.

Most hon. Members will agree to some extent with the proposal on short speeches, but I would have liked the Jopling report to go further and to suggest that Privy Councillors should not have preference over anyone else. That would be fairer. It did not go unnoticed that the Chairman of the Committee was a right hon. Member himself. It also did not go unnoticed that he used to be a Government Chief Whip—that was why he was appointed.

I trust that many of my hon. Friends will join me in the Lobby against some of the resolutions tonight. My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) has negotiated a free vote: there will be no whipping on our side. That is why I can speak out tonight. Hon. Members should have the right to express their feelings; I am certainly expressing mine. I shall be voting against the motions.

9.26 pm
Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) and his Committee have done an exceedingly useful job for the House. They have produced a comprehensive report, summarising some complex and sometimes contradictory arguments that have been held in the House for a long time—certainly for a great deal longer than I have been here. The report is now a kind of locus classicus for any discussion of this subject.

There is a great deal in the report with which I agree. I have no objection to Wednesday morning sittings. I rather agree with the Jopling proposals, and the Government's proposals tonight, about Ways and Means and money resolutions. I have never understood the basis for such resolutions, other than to provide the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) with an opportunity to keep the House up late at night, sometimes for no obvious purpose. It always seemed to me that if the House willed a Bill through, it also willed the means. We are grown up enough, surely, to know that if we vote for something we must also vote for the money which the measure will involve being spent.

I also agree with the proposals to give the House better notice of recesses and longer notice of business coming before us. That is most welcome.

I do, however, have considerable reservations about what I think are the three essential resolutions—the one on statutory instruments, the one on sittings of the House and the one on short speeches. Just so that I do not immediately run into criticism, I shall try not to speak for too long on this last subject.

We hold this debate against a background of a steady decline in the respect in which Parliament is held and in the perceived influence that it has on our nation's affairs and on its vital purpose of law making, which is supposedly the primary function of any legislature. There are many symptoms of this declining regard: the greatly reduced attention that our proceedings receive in the press and the ever-increasing demands for referendums on all sorts of subjects among them. These are perhaps a reflection of a lack of confidence in the parliamentary process and a lack of commitment to Parliament as the centre of our constitution which had been taken for granted for so many centuries and generations. That is all very worrying.

It is tempting, of course, to ignore those facts, or if we cannot ignore the general drift in opinion, to put it down to forces beyond our control and say that it is nothing to do with us. I fear that that really is not good enough. It is something to do with us. It is no coincidence that Parliament has been a great deal less effective in its primary legislative role over the past generation or so than it had been for several centuries. Few private Member's Bills now get through on to the statute book; invariably almost all that do are sponsored or subsequently adopted by the Government. Few Back-Bench amendments to Bills, whether they come from Government or Opposition Back Benchers, remain on the Bill when it receives Royal Assent. Occasionally they get through in Standing Committee, but invariably are removed on Report.

That contrasts poorly not only with the past record of the House but of some other Parliaments—the European Parliament is a good example. There, some 50 per cent. of amendments tabled to directives get through and become part of the subsequent legislation or directive when promulgated by the Council of Ministers. The position in other democracies, such as the United States, is very different indeed. Congress is a genuine legislature. But here, thanks largely to the whipping system, the Government can be fairly confident that legislation drafted by the bureaucracy, but which Ministers defend ably once it comes before the House, will emerge from this place very much as it entered.

Not content with that enormous influence over primary legislation, the Government in recent years—it has been true of Governments of all political parties—have resorted increasingly to secondary legislation. Time and again Bills have come before the House that are extremely long and complex and not always well drafted, and they provide, in various clauses, for the Secretary of State to make regulations. Nobody in the House has the faintest idea what those regulations will be. Sometimes we can have a nasty shock.

One of which hon. Members on both sides of the House are conscious is the Child Support Agency. We passed the Child Support Act 1991, which seemed to enshrine a worthy principle: that where a parent is in a position to support a child, the charge for supporting that child should fall in the first place on that parent, and only if no parent is able to assume that responsibility should the charge fall on the taxpayer through income support or other welfare payments.

That seemed to be an unexceptional and worthy principle, and we all—at least Conservative Members—voted for it with great enthusiasm. We find, however, that some two years later there emerges from the bureaucracy an absolutely horrific rule book, which we could not have anticipated on the basis of statements made or discussions that were held on the original Bill and which is positively Orwellian in the detail into which it goes about the way in which families should spend their money and divide up their budget, and the relationships between parents and children, second families and first families and so forth.

That is just one small example, but the Government have bravely acknowledged precisely the point that I am making, because that was the point about the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. A great deal of legislation was pushed through the House, largely at the instigation of the bureaucracy, which was redundant, unfortunate, excessive and, in many cases, onerous to British industry. In many instances it was at variance with the principles of human freedom to which we are very much attached.

The Government therefore quite rightly decided to get rid of a lot of it. That was an extremely brave and positive initiative. It was brave because it is not always very easy for people, particularly for Governments, to recognise where there is an excess of legislation, or where their own activities have been excessive and to take the necessary measures to reverse that. That is, perhaps, the best testimonial of the point that I am making.

Against that background, we must examine what is proposed for the future workings of the House. The conclusions that we should draw are actually the reverse of those expressed in motions 4, 5 and 6, to which I have drawn attention. We want more, and more effective, scrutiny. We certainly do not want to reduce the time available for scrutiny. There is no question that a quid pro quo of the proposal to reduce the scope for the House to meet after 10 o'clock is that there will have to be virtually automatic—although we do not use that term—universal timetabling of Bills. Clearly, that will reduce the opportunity for scrutiny. It introduces a great element of artificiality into the consideration of a Bill.

When one first reads a Bill it is impossible to know where the real pitfalls will arise and where it will be necessary to probe what is proposed more deeply and where it would be desirable to table amendments.

Mr. Cormack

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Davies

I give way with pleasure to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Cormack

My hon. Friend should have said that at the moment, with the system of rigid guillotine that is frequently used, vast chunks of Bills are never discussed at all. Many clauses of the Bill to reform the health service were never discussed on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Davies

I accept that the form of retrospective timetabling that we now use is highly undesirable. The solution lies not just in trying to limit the time of speeches in the Chamber, but in having some mechanism to allow the Chairmen of Committees, if there appears to be a filibuster or something like that, to impose a rule limiting the amount of time that any hon. Member can speak on any particular amendment or group of amendments. That would be sensible and would go some way towards meeting my hon. Friend's concerns.

This would have been a good opportunity to provide for the proper use of Special Standing Committees and I am sorry that we are not doing that. They take evidence before the usual Standing Committee procedure on Bills begins. That would be a way for Parliament to look carefully at the work of the bureaucracy in preparing Bills.

On the question of statutory instruments, I have some hesitation about giving up albeit a theoretical right for 20 Members standing in their place to insist on bringing to the Floor of the House a statutory instrument to which we object. As I have said, so much of secondary legislation is misconceived and does not get the parliamentary scrutiny that it should have.

What is unclear from the motion—perhaps my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House might refer to this in his reply later—is what will happen in Committee if a resolution on a statutory instrument is defeated. With European Standing Committees, nothing happens—the fact that the resolution has been defeated has no practical influence on the future of the proposal before the Committee.

It is an irony of the present position that whereas this Parliament is supposedly a legislature and is regarded as such throughout the country, so much legislation—perhaps 99 per cent.—is, in practice, in the hands of the Executive branch of the Government. I am sorry that the opportunity has not been taken tonight to deal with that issue and to examine how Parliament could be made more effective, not just more convenient for those of us who happen to sit here. The great issue is whether or not Parliament will, in future, be an increasingly effective institution or whether it will be increasingly a merely decorative part of our constitution.

9.39 pm
Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

I shall be brief, so that others have time to speak.

The hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies) said it was crucial to ensure that the Executive was made more accountable, and that more scrutiny was possible. Let me make two comments. First, I oppose any change on the basis that, if that scrutiny is to work, Opposition parties and Back Benchers should be given more resources and opportunities. Some of the proposals that we are discussing, and some of what has been said about money and Ways and Means motions, suggest that they will lose those opportunities.

I know that compulsory timetabling is not currently proposed, but I suspect that it may well be the next stage in the changes that are being made. I accept the existence of voluntary timetables, but if we are to have a compulsory system we shall have to change many of our other procedures in the Chamber; otherwise we shall merely be giving the Government additional resources and powers. If our purpose is to ensure that legislation is subject to scrutiny, we must be very cautious about taking such a step. Certain procedures could make this place more effective, but timetabling in itself will merely reduce the rights of individual Members and their constituents.

My second point is this. Having listened to most of the debate, I am irritated by the sense of complacency that has been evident. Many Conservative Members have agreed to, and voted for, reductions in the rights of the House of Commons. Let us consider the constitutional changes that have taken place—the growth of agencies and quangos, for instances. Such changes take power away from the House of Commons.

Mr. Bennett

And there has been a reduction in the rights of local government.

Mr. Fatchett

My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

During the 10 years in which I have been a Member of Parliament, I have seen the powers of individual Members reduced in the interests of the Executive and the supposed interests of efficiency. We must achieve a balance between efficiency and accountability; if we concentrate too much on efficiency, we shall reduce the accountability of the Executive to us as Members of Parliament. I would have given much more credence to what hon. Members have said tonight if they had been jealous of our rights over the past 10 or 15 years. A significant constitutional revolution has taken place, reducing the rights of the House of Commons.

The hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding mentioned the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. He should remember that in that Act Parliament agreed to empower the Executive, by means of secondary legislation, to abolish and amend primary legislation. That substantial constitutional change was made without a squeal from Conservative Members. When we talk of the rights of the House, we must balance accountability with efficiency; but let us always opt for accountability, and the rights of Opposition parties and Back Benchers.

9.43 pm
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)

I take issue immediately with the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett). I shall produce figures to show that Back Benchers' powers to raise matters in debates will be increased rather than reduced by the proposals that we are discussing.

This is a silver day for me. As Chairman of the Procedure Committee, for 11 years I fought to drag the House's procedures more into the 20th century than ever before. It is not a golden day, because many of the recommendations are not, as it were, in tablets of stone in the Standing Orders; let us hope, however, that they will be in time.

We should surely welcome the fact that we are cutting late-night sittings dealing with legislation. That must be wrong. It cannot make sense and thank goodness for the change.

The press refers to eight Fridays off. That is typical of the media and the British Broadcasting Corporation. They are entirely misleading the public. The proposal will mean that, on those days, hon. Members can go to their constituencies and visit schools and factories, which they are not able to do normally other than in the long summer recess.

I understand what Front-Bench Members are trying to do, reflected in the answer that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House gave me at column 803 of Thursday's Hansard. When it comes, however, to limitation of speeches by Front-Bench Members, early notification of major debates, dates of the recess, avoidance of late sittings, avoidance of highly contentious business after 7.30 pm on a Thursday, prayers settled by agreement, Second Reading Committees by agreement and voluntary timetabling of Bills, we shall have to have a lot of "best endeavours". I wish both Front-Bench Members well in bringing those things about.

I refer to the only major point that I wish to make. It involves the concern about the time available for hon. Members. The 1993–94 Session was shorter than the one on which the Jopling figures were based, with 154 sitting days and about 31 Wednesdays. In 1993–94, hon. Members spent 117 hours on private Members' motions, the last-day-before-recess debate, the Consolidated Fund Bill and the three-hour debate. There were 82 different debates.

On the basis of what will be brought in by the recommendations, with 31 Wednesdays, there will be 139 hours of debate on Wednesday mornings, which is about 22 hours more than in 1993–94. Furthermore, hon. Members will have twice as many opportunities to raise subjects of their choice—there will be 155 Adjournment debates compared with the 82 debates of 1993–94. The people who say that the recommendations will decrease the power of Back Benchers do not understand the resolutions.

I apologise for my cold. On guillotining and timetabling, will people please look at the last recommendation of the Select Committee on Procedure? That contained no proposal for permanent timetabling. It was left to the Bill's Standing Committee to decide the issue of timetabling. It said that a Sub-Committee should be appointed for every Bill. If after 15 hours, the Bill was not being proceeded with according to the wishes of the usual channels, a date should be set for the Bill to be reported out of Committee. If after another 15 hours, that was not working, a timetable motion would not be moved on the Floor of the House, but the Sub-Committee should recommend a timetable so that every part of Bill would be discussed. That makes a lot more sense. It leaves power in the hands of the Committee. Surely that is a better way of dealing with the matter. That being the case, I hope that we can consider the issue again.

The Procedure Committee has agreed to monitor the aspects of these motions over the whole period and to start taking evidence in May and June in the hope that we can report by the end of the summer recess. Then the usual channels of both sides can decide whether it is necessary to amend the position, to introduce more Sessional Orders or to put the proposal into the Standing Orders. I hope that that will be helpful. With that, I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will vote for the proposal and wish it a fair wind.

9.48 pm
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I have been here before. I have heard all today's speeches to the effect that there will be no loss of time for Back Benchers and that everything will be all right. We heard John Silkin say that about the Consolidated Fund Bill many years ago when it used to be open-ended, but that came to an end. Standing Order No. 20 and private notice questions are rarely used and have all but gone and the same will be true of opportunities for Back Benchers to raise important matters. My guess is that this is the thin end of the wedge, but it is something that we shall debate again and again. We are handing valuable parliamentary time to the Government.

I came here to oppose this lousy, rotten Government and it is my job to keep them up all night if necessary. I have not come here to take part in a cosy consensus. We are here because we do not represent the standards that the Conservatives represent: they represent the bosses and we represent the workers. It is my job to ensure that people outside understand that.

Hon. Members say that they want to work better hours, but I take great exception to the four-day week being proposed today. There are 4 million people without jobs. Why are we not campaigning and passing legislation for a four-day week for those outside—the real wealth creators—so that we can mop up the vast numbers of the unemployed? If the House wants to work proper hours—9 am until 5 pm—let us get rid of all the moonlighters in the House. Hon. Members could start work at 9 am and finish at 5 pm and not work in the City, the boardrooms or the law courts—they would have to be here and, if necessary, clock on.

9.50 pm
Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

The one word that has been missing from our debate today has been "quality". I am referring not to the quality of speeches but to the quality of legislation. The only people to gain from the mish-mash of legislation of appalling quality that we pass are lawyers, not our constituents. That has to be a major factor in our consideration.

I am ashamed to do so, but I must plead guilty to working seven days a week, although not all that work is necessarily done in the House. I have served as a Government Back Bencher, an Opposition Back Bencher and an Opposition Front Bencher, and I must say that a load of romantic myths have been piddled here—[Laughter.]—peddled here tonight about the effectiveness of our current procedures. All those who complain about the proposed changes appear to be defending the status quo as something that has worked and prevented the Government from abusing the House. We know that, in the past 15 years, that has not been so. To try to defend the indefensible is not a satisfactory way to carry on in the latter part of the 20th century.

Certainly, we want better scrutiny and accountability, but the time is an overrated weapon. I have used it and abused it in government and in opposition, and a fat lot of good it did my constituents. In extremis, that weapon is still available to the Opposition, whatever party forms the Opposition.

The most conservative group of people that I have come across are Members of Parliament asked to discuss procedural change. As the Chairman of the Procedure Committee knows, there are many changes that could be brought about. Why are 10-minute Bills introduced only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; why not on Mondays and Thursdays—simply because that is how the system has developed? I know that it is radical, but why not allow hon. Members to ask two supplementary questions at Question Time, so that Ministers cannot run away after answering only one? What about early-day motions being tabled in recesses to give us parliamentary privilege when raising issues?

There are many ways to modernise the way in which the House works and give more power to Back Benchers, without defending the indefensible. Some people claim that this place is the bee's knees of parliamentary legislatures and a beacon to the rest of the world, but most of the rest of the world has passed us by. Most of the legislatures based on our Parliament have modernised themselves over the years. Although they talk about this place as the mother of Parliaments, none of them apes our present procedures, which are not as effective as we may think they are.

One hon. Member mentioned Finance Bills and said that the rules that applied to Finance Bills were different. I remember that a couple of years ago, at the end of the debate on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, I stood up at 10 pm and was called. The most horrified people in the House were my own Whips, who said, "Sit down, you are letting hon. Members know about the rules." The 10 o'clock rule does not apply to Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

The Finance Bill rule has been used on only one occasion in the past 15 years, when there was a concerted attack by the Opposition to bring the Government to heel in October 1984. We did not win, but the Government gave up their wind-up speech on their own Finance Bill. We made our point; the rule has been used only once.

The limits on hon. Members' speeches will be widely accepted. I hope that you use them with discretion, quality and efficiency, Madam Speaker. There is no God-given right for people who have served in this place for 30 years, ex-Cabinet Ministers and Privy Councillors, to take up the time that other hon. Members could make better use of.

9.55 pm
Mr. Newton

I ventured to suggest rather wryly in my opening speech that there were some signs that the debate would become a bit of a Christmas tree. It has done, with proposals ranging rather wider than those I have presented to the House. I will, of course, reflect on the various points raised, but I will not attempt to go far down those other paths tonight.

I welcome the robust common sense of much of what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) has just said, and I also welcome the similarly sensible approach, although slightly quieter in delivery, from the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor). Given that the hon. Gentleman's experience and mine go back over many of the same all-night sittings in the late 1970s, I well understand what he says.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) was described as the grandfather of the proposals by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), who described himself as the father.

Mr. Jopling


Mr. Newton

Even if my right hon. Friend did not describe himself as that, I describe him as such. I suppose that that probably makes me the midwife. I can only say that the baby has had the gestation period of an elephant. I hope that it will prove to be similarly robust now that it is finally born.

The debate may well be remembered not for my proposals, but for the rare appearance of the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) as a speaker in our proceedings. Rarely have I seen so many people sucked into the House so quickly. His pulling power is such that clearly we should hear from him more often.

There has been a general welcome from almost everybody in the debate, apart from the hon. Members for Jarrow and for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), and there were some slightly Delphic remarks from my hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies). In general, there was a welcome, so I shall comment quickly on a few specific points that were asked.

I cannot advise the House to support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). As my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale said, the amendment conflicts directly with a provision in his report. I can, however, say this, and I hope that it will give the hon. Gentleman some hope.

If the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) had been selected, I would have advised the House to accept it. I shall look at such proposals during the review that we have undertaken to have towards the end of the Session. I cannot tell the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) at the moment that the review will be prefaced by a debate before the summer recess, but I shall bear the thought in mind.

I noted the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale about statutory instruments being taken after 10 pm. I indicated our general acceptance of the proposition that fresh business would not normally be started after 10 pm. I also heard what my right hon. Friend said about statements on Wednesdays. The House might not wish to lock itself absolutely into a position in which, even if the most urgent thing arose, there was no possibility of a statement. I can undertake, however, that Ministers will not seek to abuse the proposal, and that the norm would be statements at 3.30 pm.

I propose to advise Ministers that they should normally reckon to come to the House with 20 minutes of material. If there were interventions, they would not then immediately be forced beyond half an hour.

In answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), yes, as I think we have shown already, we shall normally try to schedule what may be called light business for Thursday evenings, regardless of whether it is followed by one of the Fridays, although I cannot give an absolute guarantee of that.

My last point, because I am rapidly running out of time, is one of encouragement for the hon. Member for Jarrow, who appeared to gain rousing applause for his attack on Privy Councillors. Of course, the extension of the 10-minutes rule at least means that Privy Councillors will not be called at a time when they can indulge themselves by taking half a hour, only to leave many others with ten minutes later; so something has been done to redress the balance. Whether that is approved of by all the Privy Councillors on the Labour Front Bench, I do not know. That is for them to say.

The point on which I have been heavily pressed further, and of which I take note, concerns greater notice of parliamentary business. I cannot go further tonight, but the message is very clear, and I shall of course reflect on it.

It being Ten o'clock, MADAM SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Order [9 December].

The House divided: Ayes 217, Noes 41.

Division No. 26] [10.00 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Bates, Michael
Alexander, Richard Battle, John
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Beith, Rt Hon A J
Amess, David Beresford, Sir Paul
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Betts,Clive
Arbuthnot, James Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Armstrong, Hilary Booth, Hartley
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Boswell, Tim
Atkins, Robert Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia
Bowis, John Hinchliffe, David
Brandreth, Gyles Hodge, Margaret
Bright, Sir Graham Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Hoyle, Doug
Browning, Mrs. Angela Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Burns, Simon Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Butler, Peter Hughes, Simon (Southward)
Byers, Stephen Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Callaghan,Jim Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Carrington, Matthew Jones, Gwitym (Cardiff N)
Carttiss, Michael Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)
Church, Judith Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Clapham, Michael Jowell, Tessa
Clappison, James Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Kilfedder, Sir James
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif) Kirkhope, Timothy
Coe, Sebastian Kirkwood, Archy
Coffey, Ann Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Conway, Derek Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Cormack, Patrick Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Corston, Jean Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Liddell, Mrs Helen
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Lidington, David
Davies, Bryan (Oldham c'tral) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Luff, Peter
Dicks, Terry MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Dobson, Frank MacKay, Andrew
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James MacShane, Denis
Dover, Den Maitland, Lady Olga
Dowd, Jim Malone, Gerald
Duncan, Alan Mans, Keith
Eagle, Ms Angela MareK, Dr John
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Enright, Derek Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Merchant, Piers
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Miller, Andrew
Faber, David Mills, Iain
Fabricant, Michael Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Flynn, Paul Moonie, Dr Lewis
Forman, Nigel Moss, Malcolm
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Mullin, Chris
Forth, Eric Nelson, Anthony
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Neubert, Sir Michael
Foster, Don (Bath) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring) Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger Norris, Steve
French, Douglas O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)
Gallie, Phil Ottaway, Richard
Gapes, Mike Paice, James
Garnier, Edward Patnick, Sir Irvine
Gillan, Cheryl Pearson, Ian
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Pickles, Eric
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Pike, Peter L
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Pope, Greg
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Purchase, Ken
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Quin, Ms Joyce
Gunnell, John Rendel, David
Hague, William Richards, Rod
Hall, Mike Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Hampson, Dr Keith Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Hanson, David Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Harman, Ms Harriet Roche, Mrs Barbara
Harris, David Rooker, Jeff
Hawkins, Nick Ruddock, Joan
Heal, Oliver Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Heathcoat-Amory, David Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Henderson, Doug Sackville, Tom
Hendry, Charles Shaw, David (Dover)
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
HilI, Keith (Streatham) Sims, Roger
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E) Trend, Michael
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Trotter, Neville
Soames, Nicholas Vaz, Keith
Soley,Clive Waller, Gary
Spencer, Sir Derek Walley, Joan
Spink, Dr Robert Ward, John
Spring, Richard Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Sproat, Iain Waterson, Nigel
Steel, Rt Hon Sir David Watts, John
Steen, Anthony Wells, Bowen
Stern, Michael Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Stewart, Allan Whittingdale, John
Strang, Dr. Gavin Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Straw, Jack Willetts, David
Streeter, Gary Wilson, Brian
Sweeney, Walter Wolfson, Mark
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury) Wood, Timothy
Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strgfd) Wright, Dr Tony
Taylor, John M (Solihull) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Thomason, Roy
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V) Tellers for the Ayes:
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Mr. David Lightbown and
Timms, Stephen Mr. Sydney Chapman.
Austin-Walker, John McFall, John
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Mackinlay, Andrew
Bayley, Hugh McWilliam, John
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Mahon, Alice
Bennett, Andrew F Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Bermingham, Gerald Meale, Alan
Campbell-Savours, D N Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Corbyn, Jeremy O'Hara, Edward
Paisley, The Reverend Ian
Cox, Tom Pendry, Tom
Dixon Don Pickthall, Colin
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Etherington, Bill Simpson, Alan
George, Bruce Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Golding, Mrs Llin Snape, Peter
Gordon, Mildred Spearing, Nigel
Hood, Jimmy Spellar, John
Illsley, Eric Winnick, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
Lewis, Terry Tellers for the Noes:
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Mr. Denis Skinner and
McCartney, Ian Mr. Harry Barnes.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That, during the present Session of Parliament, the Standing Orders and practice of the House shall have effect subject to the modifications set out below.

  1. (1) In this Order 'a consolidation bill' means a public bill such as is defined in paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 123 (Joint Committee on Consolidation, &c., Bills).
  2. (2) Notices of amendments, new clauses and new schedules to be moved in committee in respect of a consolidation bill may be received by the Clerks at the Table before the bill has been read a second time.
  3. (3) If a motion that a consolidation bill be not committed is made by a Minister of the Crown immediately after the bill has been read a second time, the motion shall not require notice and the question thereon shall be put forthwith and may be decided, though opposed, at any hour.
  4. (4) The question for the third reading of a consolidation bill shall be put forthwith.
  5. (5) Any public bill, the main purpose of which is to give effect to proposals contained in a report by either of the Law Commissions, other than a private Member's bill or a consolidation bill, shall, when it is set down for second reading, stand referred to a second reading committee, unless— 1498
    1. (a) the House otherwise orders, or
    2. (b) the bill is referred to the Scottish Grand Committee.
  6. (6) If a motion that a bill such as is referred to in paragraph (5) above shall not stand referred to a second reading committee is made by a Minister of the Crown at the commencement of public business, the question thereon shall be put forthwith.
  7. (7) The provisions of paragraphs (3) to (6) of Standing Order No. 90 (Second reading committees) shall apply to any bill referred to a second reading committee under paragraph (5) above.