HC Deb 01 February 1999 vol 324 cc595-6
44. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

If she will make a statement on Government proposals for further modernisation of the House of Commons. [66806]

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett)

We are in the early weeks of the experiment approved by the House on 16 December for earlier sittings on Thursdays. The Modernisation Committee is looking at the possibility of creating a second forum, or Main Committee. I will shortly invite it to study ways in which the Standing Committee on Regional Affairs might be revived and updated.

Fiona Mactaggart

I thank my right hon. Friend for her reply. She referred to the proposal for the establishment of a Main Committee. Could that perhaps provide an opportunity for our procedures to be made more transparent and slightly less like a bunfight? My constituents find watching the Chamber a depressing experience at times: they gain the impression that Members jeer and shout, and do not listen to each other. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the establishment of a Main Committee might help the Chamber to grow up?

Mrs. Beckett

That would be a dangerous proposition. The Modernisation Committee, however, is currently taking evidence from a number of quarters on the proposal for a Main Committee, and believes that such a Committee might indeed lead to greater transparency—and, perhaps, to some variation in the way in which we debate some of the issues that come before us.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

Does the right hon. Lady realise that, having fought so hard to achieve universal suffrage and their place in the House of Commons, women will judge her harshly if, under the pretence of family-friendly policies, she uses them as an excuse to dumb down the House and reduce the number of hours in which Members of Parliament can argue their case?

Mrs. Beckett

I can only say that, in listening to what was said about the proposed changes and the experiment that is being undertaken in the House, the right hon. Lady has clearly failed to take into account the fact that there has been no diminution of the hours in which the House sits and no dumbing down; nor would any be proposed by this Government.

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