HC Deb 09 March 1998 vol 308 cc17-8
35. Mr. Bradshaw

What proposals she has to reform the parliamentary year; and if she will make a statement. [31441]

Mrs. Ann Taylor

The Modernisation Committee will consider the matter shortly, now that it has completed its work on the two reports that were published this morning: one on conduct in the Chamber, including recommendations on short speeches, precedence for Privy Councillors and the use of top hats; the other on the carry-over of Bills. I commend both reports to the House.

Mr. Bradshaw

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply and I congratulate her on her reports. Am I right in thinking that, with Easter barely a month away, we still do not know if or when there will be an Easter recess, let alone a Whitsun or summer recess? Does she accept that many hon. Members would gladly settle for shorter recesses if they were more predictable, so that we could plan our lives?

Mrs. Taylor

I did indicate, in the first week the House sat in January, the likely dates of the Easter recess. My hon. Friend and other hon. Members will appreciate that, with the business ahead of us and the fact that we sometimes have to wait for Committees to finish or for Bills to come back from the House of Lords, it is difficult to anticipate the details of business a long time in advance. However, we are now giving two weeks' notice of business wherever possible and an early indication—even if it is sometimes in general terms—of other major events and when recesses are likely to be.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I thank the right hon. Lady for the leadership she has given to the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons. Does she accept that the agreement on the carry over—and it has to be with agreement that Bills are carried over—will make it easier to define a parliamentary year? While I do not necessarily associate myself with everything the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) said, does the right hon. Lady accept that there would be a widespread welcome for a more structured parliamentary year?

Mrs. Taylor

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. It will be for the convenience of the House if we experiment with the carry-over procedure, and I believe that we will be able to make progress on that. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that, if we manage to use that procedure successfully, it may be possible to anticipate, with greater certainty, the likely pace of the parliamentary year and when the recesses might occur.