HC Deb 27 November 1995 vol 267 cc925-8
36. Mr. William O'Brien

To ask the Lord President of the Council what plans he has further to reform the procedures of the House; and if he will make a statement. [683]

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

The House agreed to wide-ranging reforms in its procedures earlier this month. Proposals for further reforms affecting Scottish and Welsh parliamentary business will be announced shortly. If the hon. Gentleman has a specific proposal in mind, he might like to draw it to the attention of the Procedure Committee.

Mr. O'Brien

Will the Lord President of the Council consider allowing Members to debate significant and topical current issues, such as the "Panorama" interview with the Princess of Wales? Could we have the same facilities in the House as the Minister of State for the Armed Forces had on television debating that issue? If such facilities cannot be made available, what action will be taken against the Minister?

Mr. Newton

That question appears to be an attempt to rerun a number of exchanges that took place with me at business questions and, perhaps more importantly, with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at Prime Minister's questions last Thursday. As I said then, I have nothing to add to what has been said.

37. Mr. Flynn

To ask the Lord President of the Council what new proposals he has to improve the efficiency of parliamentary procedures. [684]

Mr. Newton

In addition to the procedural reforms to which I referred in my previous answer, we believe that the legislative work of Parliament can be improved by the publication of draft Bills when timing and other considerations make it practicable and appropriate. That practice has already been adopted for a number of Bills in the past two years. In the present Session, we intend to publish draft Bills on adoption, building societies and merchant shipping.

Mr. Flynn

The long-established procedures of the House make it clear that we are unable to discuss the conduct of the sovereign, the heir to the throne or the members of the royal family, except under a substantive motion. Will the Leader of the House make time available at least once a year so that we can discuss the future of the royal family and the funding of the monarchy?

Mr. Newton

It will not surprise you to learn, Madam Speaker, that I have no plans to proceed in that manner.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Will my right hon. Friend confirm his recent answer to me in a written question that he is in favour of retaining the use of opera hats for points of order during Divisions? Will he take steps to ensure that there is more than one hat in the Chamber—perhaps the Clerk to the House could keep a hat for the convenience of Members?

Mr. Newton

I think that I made some reference to that matter in an earlier exchange with my hon. Friend. If I remember rightly, I suggested that that was a matter that the Procedure Committee, the distinguished Chairman of which I am glad to see in his place, might care to consider.

Mr. Bennett

Will the Leader of the House accept that, while we welcome the move to publish Bills in advance, it would be better if the Government were agreeable to having Select Committee hearings on many Bills? Does he realise that the Procedure Committee originally recommended that that should become commonplace on most Bills? Two experiments were carried out and the process then fell into disuse. Will the Government reinstitute the process and ensure that we have Select Committee hearings on most Bills to improve scrutiny in the House?

Mr. Newton

Just as I said in respect of the draft Bills in my speech last Wednesday, all those matters need to be considered carefully in relation to particular cases. A number of other factors have to be taken into account, including the need to pass legislation speedily, the degree of controversy and therefore the likelihood of whether such proceedings would be helpful. I note the representations that the hon. Gentleman has made.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Given the success of the Jopling experiment and the changes that have been incorporated into Standing Orders, the comments that the Leader of the House made at the end of the debate on the Queen's Speech and the fact that this Question Time is always very brief and there are many substantive arguments, such as that just made by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), would it not be a good idea for us to hold a proper, well-informed debate on many of the suggestions that have been made by the Procedure Committee of ways in which we may make longer-term, more fundamental changes to our procedures so as to make Parliament work more effectively and efficiently?

Mr. Newton

As always, I am grateful to the hon. Lady for the constructive approach that she has brought to those issues, which has helped the whole House to make progress. I will therefore examine her suggestion carefully.

I should perhaps draw attention to the fact that the House has had a fairly substantial opportunity to debate procedural matters very recently, in the debate on the Jopling proposals, but I would not rule out the hon. Lady's suggestion. Specifically, there would be some merit in bringing the attention of a wider audience to the progress that we have made, not least in respect of the publication of draft legislation.