HC Deb 22 June 1998 vol 314 cc696-8
31. Mr. David Winnick

What further proposals she intends to put to the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons. [45253]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

In addition to proposed changes to the legislative process, EU scrutiny and the explanatory memorandum accompanying Bills, I hope shortly to submit a memorandum on the parliamentary calendar.

Mr. Winnick

With no criticism intended of anyone who happens to be a servant of the House, if the word modernisation is to have any meaning at all may I ask what justification there can be, two years into the next century, for wigs, gowns and swords to be worn in much the same way as happened centuries ago? Now that the Modernisation Committee is carrying out important work, is there not a case for that matter being considered and action being taken during the lifetime of this Parliament?

Mrs. Taylor

That topic was mentioned in a recent report, and the Modernisation Committee is always open to ideas, but, so far, we have not been inundated with suggestions from hon. Members that that sort of change should be made. However, I noticed that, in a recent debate, the shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), said that he was taken with the idea of modernising in that respect, so we might return to that issue.

Sir Patrick Cormack

May I point out that my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) did not mention wigs, and that we wish to dissociate ourselves from the philistine comments of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), which would lead to the sort of drab uniformity that may be suitable for the hemicycle in many continental chambers, but is not appropriate here?

However, the question I intended to ask the right hon. Lady is, when she is considering the parliamentary year, will she bear in mind that she has the sympathetic support of the Opposition so long as there is proper safeguarding of Opposition time in the year?

Mrs. Taylor

If would be interesting to have a debate on parliamentary dress, including wigs; if there were time,I should certainly try to schedule one in the near future. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House are genuinely interested in changes to the parliamentary calendar, although I understand the hon. Gentleman's remarks about safeguards. Everyone will study any possible change carefully, but there may be some scope for improvement.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody

If the Modernisation Committee and its members are serious about wanting to improve facilities for Back Benchers, instead of looking at nonsensical and superficial issues, they should seriously consider examining the work of the General Accounting Office in Washington to see how it provides detailed, accurate and factual support for Back Benchers who want to assess the implications of legislation. They should also consider expanding the support offered to Members of Parliament of all parties so that they can make uniformly useful contributions. The Committee should stop worrying about traditions that are important but hardly world-shaking.

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend will have noted that the Modernisation Committee has chosen to concentrate on the issues it thinks the most significant. That is one reason we have not spent a great deal of time talking about dress and wigs.

The Select Committee system and our Library facilities already offer Back Benchers significant support, but we need to keep up to date with what Members require—not least because the demands on them are increasing all the time.

Mr. David Heath

Will the right hon. Lady consider a fast-track procedure for the ratification of treaties that have been signed by Her Majesty's Government so that we can avoid the embarrassment of urging other countries quickly to ratify treaties that we seemingly cannot ratify ourselves?

Mrs. Taylor

Legislation can always proceed quickly if there is total agreement. During the time we have been in government, I have found there to be total agreement on very few issues.

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