HC Deb 24 May 1999 vol 332 cc81-133

[Relevant document: The Second Report from the Procedure Committee, Session 1998—99, on Procedural Consequences of Devolution: Second Interim Report (HC 376).]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House approves the Second Report from the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons on Sittings of the House in Westminster Hall (House of Commons Paper No. 194).—[Mrs. Beckett.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Madam Speaker has selected the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), at end add

`except for paragraphs 17 and 24, and considers that the new sittings should be known as the Commons Committee; that the Wednesday morning sitting devoted to private members' business should not be transferred to Westminster Hall; and that the seating plan to be adopted should be as set out in Appendix 2 of the Report.'.

I also understand that it will be for the convenience of the House if we debate motion No 4:

That in the next Session of Parliament the Standing Orders and practice of the House shall have effect subject to the modifications set out below:

  1. (1) On days on which the House shall sit there shall be a sitting in Westminster Hall—
    1. (a) on Tuesdays between ten o'clock and one o'clock;
    2. (b) on Wednesdays between half-past nine o'clock and two o'clock; and
    3. (c) on Thursdays beginning at half-past two o'clock and continuing for up to three hours (and in calculating that period no account shall be taken of any period during which the sitting may be suspended owing to a division being called in the House or a committee of the whole House).
  2. (2) Any Member of the House may take part in a sitting in Westminster Hall.
  3. (3) Subject to paragraph (12) below, the business taken at any sitting in Westminster Hall shall be such as the Chairman of Ways and Means shall appoint.
  4. (4) The Chairman of Ways and Means or a Deputy Chairman shall take the chair in Westminster Hall as Deputy Speaker; and the House may appoint not more than four other members of the Chairmen's Panel to sit in Westminster Hall as Deputy Speaker.
  5. (5) Any order made or resolution come to at a sitting in Westminster Hall (other than a resolution to adjourn) shall be reported to the House by the Deputy Speaker and shall be deemed to be an order or resolution of the House.
  6. (6) If a motion be made by a Minister of the Crown that an order of the day be proceeded with at a sitting in Westminster Hall, the question thereon shall be put forthwith, but such motion may be made only with the leave of the House and may not be made on a Friday.
  7. (7) The quorum at a sitting in Westminster Hall shall be three.
  8. (8) If at a sitting in Westminster Hall the opinion of the Deputy Speaker as to the decision of a question (other than a question for adjournment) is challenged, that question shall not be decided, and the Deputy Speaker shall report to the House accordingly; and any such question shall be put forthwith upon a motion being made in the House.
  9. (9) If any business other than a motion for adjournment is under consideration at a sitting in Westminster Hall, and not fewer than six Members rise in their places and signify their objection to further proceeding, that business shall not be further proceeded with in 82 Westminster Hall, and the Deputy Speaker shall report to the House accordingly, and any order under paragraph (6) above relating thereto shall be discharged.
  10. (10) At the end of each sitting in Westminster Hall, unless a question for adjournment has previously been agreed to, the Deputy Speaker shall adjourn the sitting without putting any question; and proceedings on any business which has been entered upon but not disposed of shall lapse.
  11. (11) The provisions of Standing Orders No. 29 (Powers of chair to propose question), No. 36 (Closure of debate), No. 37 (Majority for closure or proposal of question), No. 38 (Procedure on divisions), No. 39 (Voting), No. 40 (Division unnecessarily claimed), No. 41 (Quorum), No. 43 (Disorderly conduct), No. 44 (Order in debate), No. 45 (Members suspended, &c. to withdraw from precincts), No. 45A (Suspension of salary of Members suspended) and No. 163 (Motions to sit in private) shall not apply to sittings in Westminster Hall.
  12. (12) The House shall meet on Wednesdays at half-past two o'clock, and paragraphs (1) and (2) of Standing Order No. 9 (Sittings of the House) shall have effect on Wednesdays; and Standing Order No. 10 (Wednesday sittings), so far as it relates to business taken before two o'clock, shall apply only to sitting in Westminster Hall, and shall have effect as if paragraph (3) were omitted.
Madam Speaker has selected the following amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst: the first to paragraph (7), leave out `three' and insert 'six': the second to paragraph (9), second line, leave out 'six' and insert 'three'.

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

I speak as Chairman of the Modernisation Committee.

I should like to make three things clear at the outset. First, this is not a Government proposal, although I personally support it. It stems from the Modernisation Committee's own research into a novel procedure used in Australia, and from the Committee's ideas on how that procedure could be adapted for use in the House of Commons. I believe that its originator here was the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery)—who, as hon. Members will have recognised, is not a Labour Member.

I know that the Modernisation Committee is very grateful to those—especially the Clerk of the Australian Parliament—who were good enough to come here and give evidence to us.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

I should like to make a little more progress.

Secondly, the motion gives the House the opportunity to conduct an experiment. The experiment, involving sittings in the Grand Committee Room off Westminster Hall, would give private Members more time—let me repeat that, because, inexplicably, some members of the press have got hold of the wrong end of the stick—more time to debate some of the many issues that, while undoubtedly worthy, are unlikely ever to find space in the crowded schedule of the Chamber. It could also allow time for more focused debates on, say, foreign affairs, or discussion of more Select Committee reports. Some 180 Select Committee reports are published each year, but time cannot be found for debate of more than about 12 a year on the Floor of the House. What is being proposed is an addition to, rather than a substitute for, what we can do now.

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

I have listened carefully to what the right hon. Lady has said about the impossibility of finding time to debate those matters on the Floor of the House. However, I am conscious that, in the past year, we have had the longest summer holiday in history, the longest Christmas holiday in history and an extra four days' Easter holiday; moreover, I think that we are about to have the longest Whitsun holiday in our history. If we had shorter holidays than we have been used to having, would we not have time to debate these matters?

Mrs. Beckett

I do not have the figures with me, but, according to my recollection, most of the figures that the right hon. Gentleman has just given are incorrect. The summer holidays and the Christmas holidays were not the longest, and the Whitsun holiday will not be the longest either. The right hon. Gentleman may go on holiday when the House rises, but most hon. Members devote time to their constituencies, or indeed to other work. I am afraid that I reject what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and it is clear to me that the House does as well.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

Does the right hon. Lady agree that our problem is caused less by the fact that we have not enough time than by the fact that the time we have is so badly used? In some debates, such as those on Kosovo, it is virtually impossible to be called, while at other times the Whips are running around desperately trying to get any hon. Members to speak on subjects about which they know hardly anything. Would it not be better to allow debates in the Chamber to come to a natural end—if necessary, by arranging votes at fixed times, rather than providing for them to begin at the end of the debates preceding them?

Mrs. Beckett

A number of suggestions have been advanced about how we could use our time better. No doubt, some will be aired in this debate. However, it is my understanding that the House of Commons sits for rather longer hours than most other legislatures.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Can we now dispense with the fiction that we are sitting for shorter hours? In fact, so much business is being jammed into sittings on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays that Members are being removed from Select Committees and other Committees. We are told that there is not enough time, but in fact the timetable is being skewed.

Mrs. Beckett

I do not entirely share my hon. Friend's view on this occasion. I feel that there is a degree of exaggeration about the extent to which the changes in the pattern of sittings of the House are affecting other pressures on the House's time. However, although I fear I cannot share my hon. Friend's view entirely, it is a legitimate view, to which no doubt she may return.

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton–under–Lyne)

My right hon. Friend said that the sittings in Westminster Hall would be an experiment. Some of us are quite relaxed about that, provided that the sittings will clearly be an experiment; but, if substantial sums are involved in the moving of furniture, there may be pressure to continue them. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the sittings really will be an experiment, and that we can view the matter rather more objectively?

Mrs. Beckett

That brings me to the point that I was about to make. I assure my right hon. Friend categorically that what is proposed is an experiment—and, indeed, an experiment that will need to be reviewed, so that we can see whether, if it is approved, changes need to be made.

Mr. Robathan

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett

May I answer my right hon. Friend's question first?

My third point is that the experiment will not require the House to make substantial or additional financial outlay. Work already scheduled for the Grand Committee Room will be brought forward, and the Committee and the House of Commons Commission have asked the House authorities to make every effort to find offsetting savings and to reprioritise within proposed works. The Committee took evidence about those matters from the Clerk of the House and from the Serjeant at Arms. I much regret—as, I think, does the whole Committee—that we did not formally involve the Accommodation and Works Committee and the Administration Committee, and I assure members of both Committees that no discourtesy was intended. The Modernisation Committee was, however, very mindful, following evidence from Officers of the House that the time scale for a decision to facilitate an experiment in the autumn was short. The House having been alerted to discussion of the proposals in the debate on our last report held before Christmas, it was felt that the matter should be put to the House for decision as quickly as possible.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

The right hon. Lady will know that, as Chairman of the Accommodation and Works Committee, I had cause to write to her expressing disappointment that we had not been consulted earlier. Let me take this opportunity to thank her for what I can only describe as a very gracious reply.

Mrs. Beckett

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe), who chairs the Administration Committee, also wrote to me, and I have replied to her. She notified me that she would not be able to be present this evening.

Mr. Robathan

I apologise for intervening so early, but I particularly wanted to comment on the right hon. Lady's first point.

I have read the report, and I think there is much good sense in it, although I do not support it in general. Can we clarify the ground rules for the debate? The right hon. Lady's first point was that this was not a Government report, and I accept that; but will she say categorically that there will not therefore be a payroll vote?

Mrs. Beckett

Quite categorically, it is a matter for the House. It is a free vote and it is for the House to decide whether it wishes to undertake the experiment.

The Modernisation Committee identified a number of possible time slots for the sittings, but proposes three for the purpose of the experiment. The times are chosen to avoid a clash with questions and statements in the Chamber. Indeed, two of the proposed sittings would take place when the House was not sitting. The proposal is that two of the sittings should be for private Members' debates that are taken on the Adjournment, and the third for other House business, such as I have described.

The demand for such debates far outstrips what the House can accommodate at present. Applications for the daily half-hour, end-of-business Adjournment exceed the number of opportunities by five to one. For the longer Wednesday debates, applications exceed the opportunities by 10 to one.

The proposed Tuesday morning sitting, from 10 am to 1 pm, would follow the very popular Wednesday precedent of one 90-minute and three 30-minute private Member's debates on the Adjournment. Wednesday morning Adjournment debates would move—as was suggested to the Modernisation Committee in evidence—to Westminster Hall, and would last for the same time as now: from 9.30 until 2, making the Chamber available to visitors.

The Thursday afternoon sitting—of three hours starting at 2.30—would be available for a general debate, say, on a recent Green Paper, or a specific foreign country. About half those sittings could be used for extra Select Committee reports chosen by the Liaison Committee.

Ms Hazel Blears (Salford)

With the advent of regional development agencies and the regional assemblies, clearly, regional business will become increasingly important to the House. In the north-west, we recently had two excellent debates on regeneration and on north-west transport. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that such regional issues, which are important to many of our constituents, will find a place in Westminster Hall debates?

Mrs. Beckett

It would be a matter for the House. I sympathise with my hon. Friend's wish for such issues to be aired. I have some other thoughts on how best that might be done and would rather—again, it is a personal view—that the Committee be used for issues that have a particular regional focus, but may transcend one individual region: for example, concerns about a main rail line. However, I entirely share her view that it is an extra resource available to the House to air issues that it is not now easy to find time to air.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)

My right hon. Friend has already said that it is an experiment, but can she assure me that, when it is reviewed, we will consider not just whether to continue with the Westminster Hall Committee, but whether to extend the range of business that might be taken in it?

Mrs. Beckett

We are getting somewhat into the realms of the hypothetical. If the House decided to conduct such an experiment and it proved to be a success, there might be pressure from Members to expand the procedure in the way in which my hon. Friend mentions, but we are by no means at that point at present.

The sittings would be chaired by the Chairman of Ways and Means and his deputies, or by senior members of the Committee of Chairmen. They would be open to any Member to attend. As with a similar body in Australia, only non-controversial business would be taken and only with the agreement of the House. The Committee hopes that the sittings might be of particular interest to a wider and more specialised group of media commentators: for example, technical or subject-oriented journals or correspondents.

The Committee was conscious of the concern that is bound to be felt in some quarters—which may be expressed in the debate—that the sittings might detract from the Chamber itself, but believed, after much thought and discussion, that the potential advantages of such an additional forum outweighed those dangers—and might, indeed, ease the frustration of those many Members whom the Chair cannot call to contribute to debates in this Chamber with the frequency that they would wish.

If the report is approved, the experiment proposed will commence with the new Session in the autumn. Along with the development of pre-legislative scrutiny, it is perhaps the most fundamental of the changes that the Modernisation Committee has yet put before the House. It would increase opportunity for scrutiny of public affairs, and Parliament's capacity to hold the Executive to account.

Some calculation has been made of the increased opportunities that the experiment might provide for the House. Before we have any more remarks about sitting for an extra half an hour here and there, or giving up a day of what is described as a holiday, let me draw to the attention of the House the potential increase in debate time.

The proposal would provide for some 140 extra Back-Bench Adjournment debates a year on Tuesday mornings; that is four a week for some 35 weeks. It would enable up to three dozen extra Select Committee reports to be debated on Thursday afternoons. It would allow for some 17 or 18 extra general debates on subjects for which the House cannot find time.

In total, we are talking about nearly 200 extra debates a year. Hon. Members on both sides of the House frequently call for the opportunity of increased scrutiny. That is what the proposal, coming from an all-party Committee, provides. I hope that the House will give it a fair wind.

7.26 pm
Sir George Young (North–West Hampshire)

The motion is certainly an issue on which Conservative Members have a free vote. It is a House of Commons matter, on which there will be a wide variety of views. On balance, I will support the proposition that is before us, but I will be neither dismayed nor surprised if some of my right hon. and hon. Friends come to a different view.

I begin with two general points. First, I am not an uncritical supporter of the recommendations of the Select Committee on Modernisation. I objected to the previous recommendations on Thursday sittings—to which the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) referred—with their compression of the working week at Westminster. They emanated not from the Committee, but from the Government, and have made it more difficult for us to hold them to account. Of course, I understand that it may be popular with some Members of Parliament, but that does not make it right for the Commons. I look forward to returning to that issue when the evaluation of the experiment is carried out and completed.

Secondly, as the Leader of the House said, we are being asked tonight to decide not whether the Westminster Hall Committee is the right way forward, but whether to proceed with the trial and, in the light of that, whether it is a sensible reform for the House.

Initially, I was suspicious of the proposals for a Main Committee, as it was called at the time, because of the centrifugal impact it might have on the Chamber. I will explain why those fears are not soundly based, but, as we took evidence from those who have tried a similar solution and as we analysed the strategic problems that confront Parliament as a whole, I was persuaded that we should give the proposal a go. It offers the opportunity better to hold the Executive to account. That is possibly the biggest challenge that Parliament faces at the moment.

One can divide proposals for reform of the House into two main groups: first, those that facilitate or expedite the legislative process—Special Standing Committees, carry-over motions and guillotines; secondly, those, such as Opposition days, which facilitate the "holding to account" process. There is an element of overlap in some reforms, but that distinction is helpful. The House has focused too much recently on the first type of reform.

The way that the proposal for the Westminster Hall Committee is structured is to focus on the second objective and to give the House a greater ability to hold the Executive to account, rather than to enable the Executive to push through more inadequately considered legislation. Paragraph 33 of the report makes that clear. Business can be referred to the Westminster Hall Committee only by agreement. If any orders of the day are referred to the Westminster Hall Committee, one objection can block the reference, as is explained in paragraph 41.

The type of business to be referred to the Westminster Hall Committee is essentially for holding the Government to account, principally by giving Back Benchers more time. If one wanted one paragraph that encapsulated the flavour of the report, it would be paragraph 23, which gives the impact very well.

The House is simply unable to patrol all the frontier between it and the Executive. The Westminster Hall Committee will give us opportunity to do that better, with more of the general debates that are held on Wednesday mornings, more Adjournment-type debates, and more debates on Select Committee reports.

It is worth quoting from the evidence of the Chairman of Ways and Means, on page 4 of the minutes of evidence, who said:

"However, there is, I believe a prima facie case for a carefully prepared experiment".

He goes on to deal with the balance that he believes that we should have.

The Westminster Hall Committee will be part of tilting back the terms of trade, which have swung too much the other way—a process that has accelerated under the current Government, who have consistently bypassed and undermined the House of Commons. Indeed, one has only to consider the events of last Wednesday—on the U-turn on trial by jury, and the Speaker's rebuke that went with it—for evidence of that proposition. Today, there was further evidence of it with the news that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry planned a statement outside the House on sub-post offices, earning yet another rebuke.

The Westminster Hall Committee will not put things right on its own, but I think that—if read in conjunction with paragraphs 60 to 62, which are at the end of the report, but vital to it—it may be part of a solution. There is a need to look again at the Chamber in the light of the recommendation and the work of the Procedure Committee on the consequences of devolution.

Mr. Dale Campbell–Savours (Workington)

The right hon. Gentleman will know that the proposed Committee will be an experiment. I wonder what action he intends to take—or whether he intends to offer advice to some of his hon. Friends, such as "Awkward Eric"—if Conservative Members were to decide simply to object, thereby preventing the entire arrangement from having an experimental period?

Sir George Young

If the hon. Gentleman looks at paragraphs 23 to 26, he will see that some references may be made without the matter coming to the House as a whole. I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) needs no lessons from Labour Members on how to use the procedures of the House. However, paragraph 41 makes it quite clear that one objection will be sufficient to block certain references to the Westminster Hall Committee. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, and I am sure that Opposition Members will already have noticed it.

It is significant that, without dissent, the Select Committee accepted the proposition, in paragraphs 60 to 62, that the terms of trade between Government and the House should be shifted back to the House. That brings me to the argument about the impact of the proposed reform on the Chamber, which featured both in the evidence and in our discussions. Of course I understand the anxieties about that impact.

I regard the proposal before us as an evolution of other reforms, such as the introduction of Standing Committees after the second world war, and the expansion of Select Committees after the 1979 general election. Before those developments, the work was done either not at all, or on the Floor of the House. The House recognised that, if it were to do its job effectively, it would need forums other than the Chamber from which to operate. The same arguments that can be made against Westminster Hall were, doubtless, made against Standing Committees and Select Committees—that they would divert hon. Members from the Chamber, and thereby devalue the Chamber.

On both occasions, however, the House decided that its primary task was the holding of Government to account and the proper scrutiny of legislation. The House decided on those two reforms, ensuring that, so far as possible, the new Committees did not always sit at the same time as the Chamber—as we have sought to do with our proposal of avoiding sitting during Question Time and statements.

I know of no one who now wants to reverse the introduction of Select Committee or Standing Committees. The debate has moved on, to how we can make them more effective. Those forums are able to cause Ministers as much discomfort as the Chamber, as the report on Sierra Leone, to mention only one example, has shown.

Mr. David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)

I am glad to hear my right hon. Friend mention the importance of Select Committees, which—certainly in the past couple of years—have been one of the better mechanisms in holding the Government to account. However, a Select Committee's primary weapon is publicity and embarrassment, by airing the facts of real events. One of the most important mechanisms in performing that task is bringing Select Committee reports to the Chamber on Wednesday mornings.

My right hon. Friend says that the Committee will be an experiment. How will he measure the effectiveness of that experiment? Specifically, will he compare the effectiveness of a chamber at the other end of this building in debating problems aired in Select Committees reports—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Interventions must be brief.

Sir George Young

My right hon. Friend has raised the key issue of how we shall monitor the experiment's effectiveness. Although it is difficult to say in advance whether the experiment will be a success, I tell him that the publicity that Select Committees receive is derived not from the location of their sitting, but from the nature and persistence of their questioning and, quite often, the Minister's inability to respond to it.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir George Young

I should like first to finish the point, which may address one of the concerns of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis).

If such an exchange were to take place in the Westminster Hall Committee, I believe that it would receive every bit as much publicity as some of the exchanges that we have had in Select Committee. The important matter is not so much a Committee's location as the nature of its questioning and the effectiveness of the ministerial reply to that questioning. If such an exchange takes place in the Westminster Hall Committee, I believe that it will receive every bit as much coverage as if it occurred anywhere else in the building.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I should be interested to know on what the right hon. Gentleman bases that assumption. As the reporting of Parliament is consistently going down—including the reporting of this Chamber—why does he think that, if the press is not reporting one Chamber, it will effectively report two?

Sir George Young

I was making the point that devaluation of the Chamber was caused not by introduction of Select Committees or Standing Committees, but by other, extraneous factors for which Labour Members bear much responsibility.

It is certainly not the case that introduction of Select Committees after the 1979 general election led to any devaluation of the Chamber's reputation. I regard the establishment of the Westminster Hall Committee in the same way as I regard the establishment of Standing Committees and Select Committees: as other forums in which Ministers may be held to account. I do not believe that either Standing Committees or Select Committees led to undermining of the Chamber's reputation—that was due to other causes.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Is it not important to remember that, if the report is approved, and as it very clearly states, Select Committee reports that are debated in the Chamber of the House will continue to be debated there, not on Wednesdays, but at a different time? The additional venue will also allow for debate on 36 Select Committee reports that are not debated.

Sir George Young

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we are proposing additional time for Select Committees reports.

I was making the point that Standing Committees and Select Committees are excellent institutions, but that they are constrained both by membership and by subject. They are not as flexible as the proposed Westminster Hall Committee—which all hon. Members will be able to attend, and which may deal with any subject.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir George Young

I shall give way—perhaps for the last time, as we are constrained and other hon. Members may wish to speak.

Mr. Bennett

When the right hon. Gentleman pays tribute to the Select Committee system, is he confident that the proposals will not undermine that system? What will be the priorities? Will a Minister be required to reply to an Adjournment debate or to attend a Select Committee? Often, Select Committees are pursuing with a Minister a particular line of interest, and attendances are fixed several weeks in advance. Adjournment debates tend to be fixed at much shorter notice.

Sir George Young

It is not unusual for one Department to be confronted with demands on the time of more than one Minister to attend Standing Committees and Select Committees. Adjournment debates will continue to be held at the end of the day in this Chamber, whereas the Westminster Hall Committee will be meeting earlier in the day, in Westminster Hall. Therefore, there will be no conflict of the specific nature described by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Sir George Young

I shall, out of respect for my hon. Friend—but this must be the last time.

Mr. Winterton

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way to an Opposition Member. He has stressed the importance of Select Committees. If Select Committees are so important—I believe that they are—and their reports are very helpful to the House, does he accept that Government, Opposition and the usual channels should respect the integrity of Select Committees and not seek to undermine them?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend takes me way beyond my negotiating remit by referring to how Select Committees are handled. When I was a Secretary of State and was regularly interrogated, my Government paid special attention to Select Committee reports. Every Minister would be wise to do so. One or two have tried to ignore the findings of Select Committees in this Parliament and have come unstuck.

The decline of the Chamber is not primarily due to the establishment of rival forums in the Houses of Parliament in which matters are debated. The reasons are deeper and the Government have much to answer for. If I am right to say that the establishment of Standing and Select Committees was not responsible for the decline in influence, the establishment of a Westminster Hall Committee need not injure the Chamber either. On the contrary, like the Select and Standing Committees, it might enable Parliament to do its job better.

I was keen that paragraph 55 of the report should specify that the experiment would not increase planned expenditure on the House this year. The House should observe the same discipline that it imposes on other public bodies. I was reassured to hear what the Leader of the House said about expenditure. I understand the sensitivities of members of the Accommodation and Works Committee. In retrospect, I think that we should have contacted them earlier in our deliberations.

To sum up my views, I think that it is worth giving this a go. It has the potential to enable us to do our job more effectively, but it should not be seen as a total solution. That will come only with an Administration committed to restoring the influence of the House in the nation's affairs. This is not such an Administration.

7.41 pm
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

As we are debating a report to the House and to Members of all parties, I feel free to say whatever I wish, not least because, although I am fond of Mr. Ian Harris, the Clerk to the Australian Parliament, who gave evidence to the Committee, I know that for all his gentle tone he is a great persuader. I have debated with him whether the establishment of a separate Committee will enhance the work of the Chamber or detract from it. I was not persuaded by him, so I am hardly likely to be persuaded by the report.

The House is effective not only when it asks hard questions, but when it is able to debate with the people who are responsible for the legislative decisions that they are putting forward. We suffer from under-reporting in the press. The situation has changed a great deal since I entered the House. In those days, a Back-Bench speech made as late as 8 o'clock at night would be at least partly reported. That is no longer the case. There are many talented and brilliant sketch writers, but the reporting of the factual debate of the Chamber is going down and down. With the honourable exception of The Independent, which endeavours to maintain a parliamentary page, most national papers treat the House of Commons as if it did not exist.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Does the hon. Lady accept that, as a consequence of the powers that the House has given to Ministers in enabling legislation and given to Brussels through the treaties to which we have acquiesced, what we say here is of little importance, so it is hardly remarkable that it is not reported?

Mrs. Dunwoody

That is a great load of nonsense. A previous Prime Minister—the first woman Prime Minister—chose rarely to call her Cabinet together except when she wanted something written on the back of an envelope and frequently underplayed the role of the House of Commons. This is not new.

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

This is a relevant intervention. Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the potential benefits of the proposal for sittings of the whole House in Westminster Hall is that it might give good opportunities for the specialist media that do not belong to the Lobby here?

Mrs. Dunwoody

That is a load of nonsense. The specialist media are given Select Committee reports ahead of publication. They have direct contact with many of the specialist Committees. It is not the specialist press or the regional press who fail to report what we say. It is the general media, the broadcasters and the national newspapers. Unless we understand that, we shall not be able to carry this debate further.

I am worried that, whether we like it or not, the mere mention of the word "modernisation" makes some Members of Parliament leap up and down and say "What a brilliant idea." The result is that ever more work is pushed into three days of the week. Members of Parliament now expect not to be here on a Friday. That was not so in the past. Members usually reserved Fridays for their constituencies, but if there was major legislation they would be here and they would expect to vote. That is the other major difference. The rearrangement of the hours of Parliament—indeed, the lengthening of the hours of Parliament—has taken from Back Benchers the right to call a vote. That has not been fully acknowledged in the reports or by some of those who are debating the new proposals.

Select Committee reports gain status from being debated here. They are not a specialist interest to be tucked away in some nice little place where they will not give us any inconvenience. They are one of the driving forces that make Ministers answer questions. I am not surprised that both Front Benches agree on the issue. Some of my hon. Friends fail to understand that when there is agreement between both Front Benches on political developments, Back Benchers should ask why. One reason is that such developments frequently take from Back Benchers the right to debate awkward questions.

Mrs. Beckett

I bow to no one in my respect for the Select Committees and their Chairmen, including redoubtable Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), but it is far from clear to me how, given that only a limited number of Select Committee reports are debated at present, the offer of debates for a further 30 reports that would not otherwise be debated can diminish the power of Select Committees.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Then let me explain. I may not be clever, but it seems to me that reporting debates on 12 reports that take place in the Chamber is better than not reporting debates on 30 reports somewhere else. That is a real possibility.

Mrs. Beckett

I assure my hon. Friend that the proposal would not have gone through the Modernisation Committee had the members of the Committee thought that it meant that the Select Committee reports that are currently taken in the Chamber would no longer be taken here. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) for a start would never have gone along for a second with such a proposition.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I am delighted to hear that, but I have been here long enough to see changes that are presented as temporary experiments slide into being rather more permanent than one would expect.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mrs. Dunwoody

I am so glad to have so much assistance in my speech.

Mr. Gapes

In the last Parliament, the Foreign Affairs Committee produced a large number of reports. I remember a report on Britain's relations with Hong Kong and China that was of great topical interest. We had to wait more than a year for a slot to debate it in the Chamber. If there had been another opportunity, we could have debated the report—which would have been embarrassing to the Government in some respects—earlier, influencing the debate sooner.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I look forward to the arrival of nirvana. If at the end of the experiment my hon. Friend has to tell me, "It is extraordinary. We got the debate, but somehow nobody knew what we were talking about", I shall refrain from saying, "I told you so."

It is nonsense to keep talking about the arrangement of the furniture as part of the problems of the House of Commons. When I was in opposition and had responsibility for health matters, I went to speak in the constituency of a very important lady who was full of the idea that we should not speak to the assembled crowds from a dais. We took our chairs and tables down to the floor of a large church hall, and the meeting proceeded. After 15 minutes, a voice came from the rear of the hall, saying, "I can't hear a word you're saying"—after which we took our chairs back to the stage, from where we were heard clearly.

I hope that we are not suggesting that arranging everyone in a hemicycle—the fashionable thing to propose—will change our confrontational politics. We confront one another in the House because we have differing views—that may come as a shock to some. Consensus is possible only when people agree on what they are talking about, and does not depend on where they are sitting. I sat next to a delightful gentleman from Luxembourg—who was supposedly of the same political view as myself—for many years and, apart from the fact that he shook my hand every time I got up to go to the loo, which was mildly embarrassing, we never came any closer because we were sitting in physical proximity. That may come as a considerable surprise to everybody.

If we are carrying out an experiment, I do not see why the cost should be so great. If we stuck with the existing arrangement, we might not be fashionable and we might not be in the vanguard of change, but we might exercise a degree of common sense which I find sadly lacking in the report.

7.51 pm
Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)

The Leader of the House, with her usual perspicacity and charm, tried to pass to me the credit for the paternity of the report. I must make it clear that my only suggestion in the Committee was that we needed to find more time to debate the reports of Select Committees. We have moved a long way from that.

Since I came to the House in 1959, we have never had enough time on the Floor of the House to debate the number of matters that hon. Members have demanded week in, week out that we debate. The present Leader of the House does quite well in passing on requests. When he was the Leader of the House, Rab Butler had an absolute formula for dismissing requests—he said, "Not this week." The demand for more debates on the Floor of the House was nearly as great then as it is now.

The important question is this—will the experiment allow Members of Parliament to debate more matters than can currently be debated on the Floor of the House? If that can be done sensibly and reasonably, there is something to be said for it.

Paragraph 60 of the report ought to be highlighted. It says:

"We share the concern expressed to us by many Members about the diminution of the importance of this Chamber in our national life."

If the experiment lowers the standing of the Floor of the House in terms of the life of the nation, it will be a failure. However, I believe that the experiment may well enhance the standing of the House.

On a number of occasions, we have needed longer periods to debate major foreign affairs and defence matters, including Kosovo. We have not had time to debate these major factors in the life of the nation on the Floor of the House. If we can provide more time through the use of the Westminster Hall Committee, it will be to the benefit of us all.

Let us make certain that we do not follow the approach of the present Prime Minister. I am worried that he wishes to downgrade the House of Commons. He is seldom here, and he plays up to the presidential aspects of his job. If we follow his approach, the experiment will fail.

The Westminster Hall Committee can, perhaps, begin to debate Select Committee reports, although I must tell the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) that the report states that we must not decrease the number of Select Committee reports that are debated on the Floor of the House. As the choice of the debates will rest with the Liaison Committee, we must charge the Committee to ensure that that does not happen.

The newer hon. Members will not know what a private Member's motion was. We used to have a ballot, and there were 10 days in which a Member could select a motion of his choice, put it on the Order Paper and move it on the Floor of the House. That has gone, and that is a great pity. It was one of the few powers that Back-Bench Members had to raise an important matter on the Floor of the House.

When I came to the House, there were 100 to 120 early-day motions a year, and we debated five, six or even 10 of them. When was an early-day motion debated on the Floor of the House in the past 10 years?

Mr. Maclean

As so many early-day motions are now dross and deal with inconsequential things, their status has been diluted by trivial matters. We might have some early-day motions debated if colleagues could limit them to 100 per annum.

Sir Peter Emery

I agree absolutely with my right hon. Friend. Tabling an early-day motion when Fulham win the championship, for example—or on something with an equal lack of importance—is nonsense. That is not a matter for a resolution of the House. However, some of the 1,500 early-day motions that are tabled are of importance and would be worthy of debate. If those could be debated in the Westminster Hall Committee, that would not be a bad thing. It would allow Members to express views that they are unable to express on the Floor of the House at this time.

When the main recommendation was passed, I happened to be in hospital. I would not have agreed to the introduction of a hemicycle, as I believe the Committee should reflect our parliamentary Chamber. I am glad to see that if the hemicycle does not work, we can return to the original structure.

I understand the genuine worry of hon. Members about the downgrading of the Chamber. If that is an effect of the experiment, it must cease. However, if the proposal does not downgrade the Chamber, and if it provides an opportunity for more people to speak and many more issues to be debated in a parliamentary manner, it will be worthy of an experiment.

Let it be understood that we will have to make a judgment on the Floor of the House on whether the experiment has succeeded. It must not be allowed to slip on and on and become part of the furniture, as so many experiments have done. We must set a date—perhaps in July, 14 months from now—for the matter to come back to the House so that we can consider the experiment in full and judge whether it has succeeded. On that understanding, the House would be wise to let it run for that period.

8 pm

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South—West)

I am enthusiastically in favour of the report. It is important to consider it in the context of the other reports already published by the Modernisation Committee and of the Committee's overall agenda, which has been to try to improve the effectiveness of the House of Commons and of individual Members of Parliament.

The public expectation of the range of activities that we should do—and especially our constituency case load—has increased over the years, and that has made it increasingly difficult for individual Members of Parliament to fulfil all the different facets of their role effectively. The most important facet of our role is as members of the legislature, but we also have important roles in scrutiny, in holding the Government to account and in representing our constituents' interests. It is extremely difficult to do all that in the time available.

It is especially difficult for Government Back Benchers to contribute in the Chamber. When there are debates on less popular issues it is fairly easy to get in, but the crucial debates are often heavily oversubscribed and, even with time-limited speeches, many of us are unable to get in. I expect that the demand to speak in such debates is suppressed because Back Benchers know that even if they put their names down, the chances of being called are slim. If we are called, it is likely to be at the very end, and hon. Members are disinclined to sit here for six hours on the off chance, especially when there are so many other demands on our time.

Mrs. Dunwoody

If one makes a speech in a debate, is not one of the courtesies to listen to others advancing their points of view? If we simply make a speech and then leave, is not that the antithesis of debate?

Dr. Starkey

I accept that point absolutely, but I note that many of the more senior Members, who are lucky enough to be called early in debates, do not observe that courtesy and remain to listen to the contributions of those who are called later in the debate.

Select Committee reports are not well discussed on the Floor of the House. I agree absolutely with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) that Select Committees are a crucial part of our scrutiny mechanisms and are often hugely more successful in that role than ministerial questions or even Opposition day debates. The reality, however, is that most Select Committee reports are unheard by the House; and I suspect that most of them are unread by most Members of Parliament who do not happen to be members of the Select Committee concerned.

We have heard that fewer than 10 per cent. of the reports are debated on the Floor of the House; apparently, more than two thirds are not even referred to on the Floor of the House. That is a huge waste of the efforts of the members of those Select Committees and of the enormous expertise that goes into the reports. The proposals will go some way towards remedying that situation by providing additional time to debate them.

Adjournment debates are a key way in which Back Benchers can define the agenda of the House. All too often, the role of Back Benchers is simply to respond to an agenda set by their Front-Bench colleagues. The Adjournment debate is the one chance for Back Benchers to raise either issues of concern to their constituents or specialist issues. In an Adjournment debate they can consider in much greater depth issues that they might otherwise attempt to raise in questions.

For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) secured a debate on the governance of universities that raised interesting questions about the way in which certain governing bodies are not living up to the high expectations that we have of them. As we have heard, Adjournment debates are heavily oversubscribed, and I expect there is suppressed demand. I think that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes) who made the point about the timing and timeliness of Select Committee reports; similarly, there may be a constituency issue that one wants to highlight, but the moment may have passed by the time one's name comes up.

Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon)

I agree with what the hon. Lady says, but does she share my reservation about the proposals in that one element of them is the removal of the Wednesday morning Adjournment debates in the House? Surely we could have additional time in the House, too, so that we do not end up debating welfare reform at 3 am.

Dr. Starkey

The reason for suggesting the change on Wednesday mornings—incidentally, an additional three hours is set aside for Adjournment debates in the Westminster Hall Committee, so they are not simply being shifted from one place to another—was to try to meet the concern that many hon. Members expressed about the lack of access to the Chamber for visitors. The proposal is experimental and it would clearly be open to hon. Members to suggest the reinstatement of the Wednesday morning sessions here in the main Chamber.

A recent Modernisation Committee report changed the hours of sitting on Thursdays. Conservative Members—and some Labour Members—keep putting it about that the change has somehow reduced the time available in the Chamber, but it has not. It has rearranged the hours but not made any change to the time available. It appears to me that it has allowed us to make much better use of Thursdays than before. We rarely used to have a full day's business on a Thursday, but now we can have that and still allow our more distant colleagues to get back to their constituencies for the weekend.

None of the earlier proposals dealt with the essential problem that we want to fit in too much business in too little time. The proposals for a parallel Chamber in Westminster Hall will create that extra debating time without increasing the overall hours of sitting. Very unusually, we are in a win-win situation. The right hon. Member for North—West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) outlined the advantages for the Opposition, and there are advantages for the Government, but most of all there are huge advantages for Back Benchers. It is extremely important to get that idea across. The Opposition argue that the power of the Executive in Parliament is too great, and the one part of that argument that I would accept resides in the fact that Back Benchers have very little room to discuss their issues. The proposals will give them more power and even up the balance between them and Front Benchers.

The idea of a parallel Chamber was borrowed from the Australian Parliament. Members of the Modernisation Committee have seen a video of the Australian Main Committee. It was not a good advertisement because it was excruciatingly boring, but I suspect that that reflects more on the Australian Parliament than on the difference between its primary Chamber and its Main Committee. The interesting lesson from Australia is that the experience has been extremely positive. There was a significant body of opposition to the idea in the first place, but hardly anyone opposes it now. People have changed their view after seeing the Main Committee in operation.

The Westminster Hall Committee will have several advantages. The proposed Westminster Hall Committee will provide an alternative forum and will allow business to be discussed, the demand for which is currently unsatisfied. Several people have mentioned what sort of business that should be, but the key point is that it would mean an increase in the time for private Members' Adjournment debates and for Select Committee reports. Extra business could also be taken in Westminster Hall. For example, when we have debates on foreign affairs, instead of a wide-ranging debate that flits about the world illogically in a disconnected series of speeches, we could have debates on a specific region, giving some continuity and sense to the proceedings.

Mr. Maclean

I do not entirely follow the hon. Lady's train of thought that discussing a geographical region is necessarily the most sensible approach. If one is discussing an ethical foreign policy, for example, it would make sense to discuss Africa, South America, Malaysia and perhaps other parts of the world. That approach would ensure consistency.

Dr. Starkey

We could have a topic-based debate, if we wanted to talk about an ethical foreign policy. However, it is also important to have regional debates. The Foreign Affairs Committee is considering the trans-Caucasus and it would be sensible to have a debate on that subject. That would raise issues that might be lost in a general debate about foreign policy.

The Westminster Hall Committee would also give us an opportunity to debate Green Papers and other Government consultation documents. At the moment, it is rare for such documents to be discussed on the Floor of the House. Such debates would give Members of Parliament an opportunity to contribute at the beginning of the consultation period, instead of having to wait until policy had been decided, when anything they said would be much less effective.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Ms Blears) mentioned the opportunities for regional debates and she gave an example of interest to her region. I would be interested in a debate on the east-west rail link, for example. That issue covers about four different regions, but is of interest to Members who represent constituencies along the route.

Westminster Hall debates would also allow greater participation for a wider range of Members. I have mentioned the difficulties Back Benchers have in participating in debates in the Chamber. Many hon. Members bring specific expertise from their previous lives that they rarely have an opportunity to use. Debates in Westminster Hall, on more specialist topics, might allow them to do so.

Different arrangements are proposed for the Westminster Hall Committee. The anecdote retailed by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich illustrates the point that if a hall has no amplification, there is a reason for having the speaker on a platform; if the hall has decent amplification, there is no reason for that. It is a reality that the way in which a meeting is organised influences the way people behave. People who are enamoured of the confrontational set-up try and argue that the arrangement makes no difference, but they defend vigorously the need to stick to it.

Some debates are confrontational. I am as confrontational as the next person and I enjoy the cut and thrust of party debate when the issue being debated actually divides the parties. However, many issues—especially those likely to be discussed in Westminster Hall—do not divide the parties. They may provoke differences of opinion, but those might run across the parties. A hemispherical and more consensual seating arrangement is much more conducive to a genuine, complex debate—the sort of debate that goes very badly on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Has the hon. Lady noticed that if we had been sitting in that format tonight, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) would have been sitting next to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)?

Dr. Starkey

That would be my hon. Friend's choice. Some of us went to look at the Grand Committee Room when it was laid out as it would be for the hemispherical arrangement. We could not believe that it was the same room, because the change made it much more pleasant. It would also be much more useful for meetings when it was not in use for the Westminster Hall Committee.

Another issue for consideration is how to open up the Westminster Hall Committee to people from outside and the possibility of facilities for the press, including the regional and specialist press. It has been remarked that most of the press coverage of Parliament at the moment is through the Lobby journalists, who tend to concentrate on the big political debates, especially those in which there is conflict. That is what makes good political copy and gets on the front page. The debates in Westminster Hall would often be of great interest to sections of the public, but they do not interest the Lobby journalists, who do not have the expertise to follow them and do not understand why they are interesting.

The current press coverage of the House does us all a great disservice. It gives the public a distorted view of the proceedings of the House by focusing only on the big set-piece controversial debates and ignores all the hard work done elsewhere in the House. By giving additional space for regional and specialist press, Westminster Hall would widen the press coverage for the House and get coverage of interesting and complex debates in the specialist press. For example, a debate in the House on women in science was of enormous interest to the scientific press, and had it taken place at a more conducive time and place, the reporters from the scientific press would have been here instead of having to rely on my press releases afterwards.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

Do not the technical press normally read the Hansard report? They get all the details from that and rarely work to close deadlines.

Dr. Starkey

They can get the details from Hansard, but if that was a satisfactory way to cover the House, Lobby journalists would never bother to be here—they would just wait for Hansard. They come here because they get the news hot off the press, so to speak, and also because they get the flavour of the debate, which it is difficult to get from Hansard. Hansard writes it all down, but it is all incredibly dry compared with the toing and froing of some debates. I am not sure, for example, that Hansard will have quite caught the flavour of the question and answer in Prime Minister's Questions last week involving the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), whereas the Lobby journalists, being present, got the flavour in full.

This House has a tradition of evolutionary reform and this proposal is part of that approach. It is a response to changing times and expectations. It offers an excellent opportunity to the House to respond to those changes and I enthusiastically urge support for the proposals.

8.19 pm
Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

I speak as an enthusiastic supporter of the report, a member of the Modernisation Committee and a member—by some strange quirk of fate—also of the Procedure Committee and the Broadcasting Committee. I have considered the proposals from various angles over the past few months. Those who wish to advocate strongly on either side should consider the underlying questions—what is this House for; is it doing that job properly; and, if not, what are the most effective ways of making it do so? The second report offers a good, practical critique of what is not working very effectively at present. It contains a good encapsulation of the criticisms that Members of the House—on both the Front and Back Benches—have, and of their frustrations about the way in which things work.

It is worth asking what the House is for. I maintain that it is not for getting good press coverage, or for securing a certain number of television minutes. The House has a constitutional purpose. Reforms, and the resistance to them, should be based on whether that constitutional purpose is enhanced.

The first major job of Parliament and the House of Commons is to provide the ingredients for Government, so that a Government can be formed and their activities legitimised. This debate does not cover that task, although much could be said: the phrase "elective dictatorship" still resonates for many people 30 years after it was coined.

The second task for Parliament and the House of Commons is to ensure that the legislation produced to form the laws of the land is coherent, effective and sound. The Leader of the House said that the Modernisation Committee has made some useful moves in that direction. It has called for pre-legislative inquiries, and proposed that legislation be rolled over so that it can be produced more evenly throughout the calendar year. It has also proposed that timetabling be used in certain agreed circumstances, and suggested that follow-up reviews be conducted into legislation that has been passed—something that we have not yet reached. In addition, there has been an important report on changing the scrutiny of European legislation.

We must recognise that there have been failures in the way that the House has handled legislation in the past. The Child Support Agency achieved all-party support and was a catastrophe; the poll tax achieved anything but all-party support but was also a catastrophe in legislative terms.

The volume and complexity of legislation is increasing all the time. The pressure comes just as much from members of the Opposition parties as from Government manifesto commitments. The Modernisation Committee has also taken evidence about the backlog of law still awaiting processing in the House. There are Law Commission reports for which time cannot be found, and other pieces of non-controversial but difficult legislation also await consideration. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) is tackling adoption legislation in a piecemeal way—perhaps I should say that he is dealing with one specific aspect of the legislation—simply because there is not sufficient time for the Government to produce comprehensive proposals.

The pressure is always to find more time and space in the House, and to find better ways and mechanisms for getting legislation through, after proper consideration, and for getting it enacted and reviewed. The report does not propose making more time for legislation, but it will achieve that by removing work from the House of Commons. That is the benefit to be gained.

Another of the functions of the House and of Members of Parliament is to hold the Government to account. Hon. Members are more than familiar with the processes involved in questions, statements, debates and ministerial responses. However, I want briefly to make a case for the half-hour Adjournment debates, which in essence offer the opportunity for extended questions to and answers from Ministers.

We have heard tonight that there are five times more applications for the late-night Adjournment debates than there are spaces available, and that there are 10 times more applications for the Wednesday Adjournment debates than there are opportunities to hold them. Those debates are not simply a chance for hon. Members to put out press releases, which was the somewhat sneering contention made at one point in the discussion. They are much more to do with holding the Government to account over local or specific injustices or over general policy.

Mr. Maclean

The hon. Gentleman says that Adjournment debates are an opportunity to hold the Government to account, but when did such a debate last frighten a Government and hold them to account?

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

The debate on war pensions.

Mr. Stunell

That will do for one, but those who criticise the effectiveness of Adjournment debates need to say when last a question—written or oral—received an answer that was not already under the Government's control. It can be argued—although I do not do so especially strongly today—that it is hard to put one's finger on a single aspect of our procedure that produces results. The examination of statutory instruments came to the Committee's attention recently. In the 1995–96 Session, 209 statutory instruments came before the House. Not one was amended in any way—or rejected, or delayed—as a result of parliamentary scrutiny.

The argument is not about whether Adjournment debates achieve anything. The whole process of politics raises a question about the effectiveness of Members of Parliament. This debate is about providing opportunities to increase the pressure on Government for accountability, and about providing the pressure to ensure that there is better accountability.

Another function of Members of Parliament is to represent our constituents and to seek justice and equity for them in what is the highest court in the land. We do that by means of parliamentary questions and letters to Ministers, but many hon. Members would like to do it through the extended question-and-answer sessions offered by Adjournment debates. At the moment, there are 240 Adjournment debates each year. If those debates were shared out, each Member of Parliament would get about one debate every three years. The need and pressure to do more in that regard is clearly intense.

The proposal for the Westminster Hall operation that is before us today is certainly not a magic solution or a panacea. I absolutely agree with the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) that the proposal will go only a small way towards putting right some of the problems that we face in making this place effective. However, the proposal can make time for proper consideration of controversial legislation in the House of Commons. It can help to find time for Select Committee reports, as has been noted. It can also help to provide opportunities for major Adjournment debates, and the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) has suggested that that would be useful for foreign affairs debates about specific areas.

The proposal also means that we will be able to hold more 30-minute Adjournment debates, which will help to hold the Government to account and allow constituents' concerns to be heard and answered. We shall have an opportunity, not much mentioned so far, to comment formally at an earlier stage on Green Papers and consultation documents.

The proposal should find favour with all Members of the House.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)


Mr. Stunell

It should benefit Back Benchers, our constituents, Select Committees and those who introduce reports from those Committees. It should allow those with special policy interests to develop them formally. It should benefit both the principal Opposition and the other Opposition parties, giving an opportunity to challenge and discuss what the Government are doing across a wider range of topics. It even gives the Government some benefits, offering the opportunity for improved outputs from both the House and the Government.

The right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) said that the value of the House of Commons should not be downgraded. I agree with that, but I must point out, as one who sits in on Adjournment debates and pays attention to what happens here, that the proportion of Members who find it possible to spend a significant amount of time in the Chamber is low. If 10 per cent. of Members are here, the 60 or 70 of them make the House look full, but the other 90 per cent. of Members are finding other things to do. The proposal poses no great risk to the credibility or effectiveness of the Chamber, and the new arrangements will provide opportunities for Members to bring concerns into the public domain and to challenge the Government.

To those who have muttered throughout my speech, from Bromley and from other places, I can say only that a mixed message comes from the critics. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has appeared to maintain from a sedentary position that he can see nothing wrong with the present system and everything wrong with any suggested change. Yet I have heard the right hon. Gentleman several times speaking with outrage about the Government's overweening power and the way in which the House is being suborned and undermined.

We have before us an opportunity to improve the situation, but, lo and behold, the right hon. Gentleman is not jumping to embrace the idea, but doing his very best to wreck it. It is time that he made a short trip to the road to Damascus. He ought to recognise that if he wants improved accountability and more effective control of the Executive, our current procedures are not sufficient.

I wish that the proposals before us went further. I wish that we were proposing sittings lasting the full 18 hours proposed in the Select Committee report, not the shorter sittings proposed in the motion. I should like other things too, and I have mentioned them elsewhere. We should move rapidly to having statements timetabled in the way that questions are, so that Departments are given slots for statements. We should do the same with Select Committee reports. The proposal that topics should be chosen for debate by the Liaison Committee reflects our present procedures, but it might be more appropriate to give Select Committees a slot and allow them to choose the report for debate.

I would set aside additional time for Adjournment debates scheduled by Department or by policy area, so that bids for them could be more structured than they are under our current random system. I support the suggestion of the right hon. Member for East Devon that we should seek to restore some quality control and effectiveness to early-day motions and private Members' motions, although I am afraid that I am too young to know anything about the latter.

I urge the House to support these sensible and symbolic proposals for improvement. They are a step towards a more modern and effective legislature, and I hope that the House will resist the various wrecking moves.

Mrs. Dunwoody

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. When we have this new, excellent Chamber, will there be a continuation of the Standing Order that states that hon. Members should not read their speeches word for word?

Madam Speaker

I am sure, and I would hope, that our Standing Orders will apply to the parallel Chamber. The strictures on rhetoric and repetition should also apply.

8.35 pm
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

I speak as another enthusiastic supporter of the Westminster Hall Committee. I hope that not only will the report and the proposed Standing Order changes be accepted, but that it will be the will of the House to give the experiment a fair wind and trial and not to kill it at birth.

I am one of those Members who believes that some of the Modernisation Committee's proposals to date have not been the subject of the experimentation and trial that I would have liked. If the carrying over of legislation and many other proposals had been fully implemented, it could have improved the way in which the House scrutinises and works. However, 1 accept that it is early days and experiments are still taking place.

It is important to accept this proposal because it will enable the House and the Modernisation Committee to consider the parliamentary year and week. I am not talking about Members of Parliament working less because that is not what I am in the business for. We have a varied and mixed job, with work here and in our constituencies, but sometimes that work is not as effective as it should be. It is nonsense that we do not know when the recesses will be. I accept that the House could be called back and the dates changed in a national emergency, but we should be able to plan. Our constituents think it crazy that we cannot tell them when we will be in the constituency.

Likewise, non-sitting Fridays tend to come in groups and then we have a mass of sitting Fridays. If one has urgent things to do in the constituency—and this is particularly true of those hon. Members who represent constituencies some distance away—it is extremely difficult. Sometimes, I have a whole list of things waiting for me to do. As you may remember, Madam Speaker, I was involved in three successive private Members' Bills on Fridays, and that makes life difficult.

Once the new system is working, I would like private Members' Bills to be moved to Wednesdays. That has not been discussed or agreed by the Modernisation Committee, but it is my view. That would be a fairer way to scrutinise and debate such Bills and it would allow the opportunity for them to make progress if they have the support of both sides of the House. That is one reason why I want to open up our procedures and allow more time for debate.

The cost of the experiment is being kept to a minimum. The Modernisation Committee was concerned about cost and one or two hon. Members have mentioned it in the debate. Most of the expenditure referred to in the report was scheduled for the Grand Committee Room in any event either this year, next year or the following year. That money would have to be spent anyway.

Mr. Swayne


Mr. Pike

Yes. It is scheduled in the programme of work. We were told so by the Serjeant at Arms when he gave evidence to the Committee. We made it absolutely clear that we did not want the purpose-built furniture for the experimental period and that we must find furniture within the House to make the experiment possible. It is important to remember that.

I strongly support the proposal that the experimental parallel Chamber should take the form of a semi-circle. The Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament have not gone for the format that is used in this Chamber because they wanted to try something new. I would strongly resist, as would you, Madam Speaker, the suggestion that we should knock the walls down to the Division Lobbies and put in a new Chamber here. This Chamber is right—it is historically right and we should preserve it. However, in the new situation it is right to start with something new. That is one reason why I opposed the idea that the experiment should take place in Committee Room 14, which was one option.

Anyone who is keen on the Select Committee system, as I am, should fully support the proposal. I have listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and I have great regard for her, but I strongly disagree with her on this issue. The proposal will create extra opportunities to consider Select Committee reports that are not currently debated and so serve a more useful purpose. I should have thought that any hon. Member on a Select Committee would welcome that. Paragraph 28 of the report clearly states that the Liaison Committee will retain its role in determining the subjects to be debated.

The additional opportunities for hon. Members to hold Adjournment debates are welcome and important, but enough has been said on that. We should keep motions under review. I hope that not only the Modernisation Committee but the whole House will keep the experiment under review. We should not wait 14 months but learn from how the new Chamber functions. If we need to adjust it in December, January or February, we should make the adjustment straight away. Obviously, that would have to be done under the Standing Order changes that we are considering today.

The right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) mentioned early-day motions. Like him, I think that they have become nonsense. They can congratulate anyone. We once congratulated a football club on reaching its highest league position, although it has now been promoted to the Premiership. That shows how silly some early-day motions have become. In Committee and elsewhere, I have noted the dangers of saying that early-day motions should be determined as of right. We should not work by numbers, but by importance and subject. We all get letters and other forms of pressure and the fact that we receive a certain number on a certain subject does not necessarily prove that it is the most important. We must watch that carefully.

As an Opposition Member, I spoke on South Africa in a foreign affairs debate when the person before me had spoken about China and the person after me about Brazil. What nonsense. The new Committee will allow us to discuss important subjects. I accept that sometimes an issue, not the region, will be important, but that can also be accommodated.

The proposal is a tremendous move forward. Once we have experimented with it, given good will and an intention to make it work, in a year or two we will want to sit more than the proposal allows. It will be good for the Opposition, the Government, and most important, for the Members of this House to debate the issues that we feel are important.

8.43 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

I oppose the proposal and dispute almost every aspect of both it and way in which it has been presented in the report. I want to take issue immediately with what I see as the report's rationale, which is contained in paragraph 3. It states:

There is almost universal agreement that there are matters which the House should discuss,"— that is probably true because it is an easy and cheap thing to say—

"which a large number of Members would wish to discuss,"—

I doubt that—

"but for which there is simply not enough time."

I wish first to take issue with the point about time. Typically, my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) went to the heart of the matter. The truth is that there is no shortage of time, or there need not be. We are leaving a day early for our recess this very week. The Leader of the House has had the gall to say that we do not have enough time but proposes that the House rise a day earlier than originally envisaged. That gives some sense of the urgency involved.

Mrs. Beckett

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman was here—I know that he listens with great assiduity to what is said in the Chamber—when I pointed out that the time proposed in the report would suffice for 200 extra debates. I doubt whether we could accommodate those, even in an extra day.

Mr. Forth

I was coming to that point. The Leader of the House should not be so impatient. I am developing my initial thoughts, and I do not think that she wants to detain me for too long at this stage of the debate.

Having demonstrated the extent to which we lack time by sending the House away unnecessarily early, the Government have also, in effect, abolished Friday sittings. The House used to sit on Fridays; we used to regard our job here as a proper job that would take up our time. Apart from private Members' Fridays, Friday sittings have now all but gone. We have casually tossed aside parliamentary days. That strikes me as slightly odd when we hear that we are short of time.

Business in the House is often unnecessarily prolonged by the Whips for the convenience of Members. People outside the House do not understand that matter fully—perhaps mercifully, for hon. Members. However, we all know that, because a vote is timed for 10 o'clock, if a debate naturally comes to an end before that time, the Whips will encourage Members to come into the Chamber to prolong the debate for the convenience of other Members returning at 10 o'clock. To allow the debate to finish naturally at 6 o'clock or 7 o'clock, as many debates would do, allowing us further time to carry out other business, would inconvenience many Members because they would have to be in the House. That is the last thing that Members want. They always want to be somewhere else on Fridays—

Mr. Gapes


Mr. Forth

Here is one of them. I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Gapes

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Has he considered his role in wasting parliamentary time, over many weeks, on Fridays and late at night?

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman obviously believes that to be in the Chamber and to participate in debates is wasting time. That is where he and I fundamentally disagree. My point is that, for those of us who believe that participation in debates should be most of what we do, it is important that that time should be used properly. We like to spend time in the Chamber; we believe that that is a valuable exercise. The hon. Gentleman does not share that view—

Dr. Ladyman


Mr. Forth

Here is another. I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Dr. Ladyman

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. May I put the point slightly differently? Is it not true that he represents a constituency in the Greater London area? It is, therefore, much easier for him to attend the House on Fridays, but still to give his constituency the attention that it deserves. That is less easy for Members from further afield.

Mr. Forth

That might seem to be a clever point. However, as the hon. Gentleman is never here on Fridays, he will not be aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border is in the Chamber every Friday that I am here. He and I believe that it is important to be in the Chamber in order to discharge our parliamentary duties. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman's constituency is further away than Penrith and The Border—I doubt it—but if my right hon. Friend can take his duties that seriously, I suggest that the same should be true of most hon. Members.

Dr. Ladyman

The last time that I was in the Chamber on a Friday, I heard the right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) filibustering a Bill that was supported by almost everyone else in the House. That was wasting parliamentary time.

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman was obviously not here last Friday, when his Government talked out a Bill that also enjoyed a wide degree of support. I do not think that it is useful to trade those sort of exchanges, although I shall gladly do so because, to date, the Government have objected to more than 30 private Members' Bills—a total to which even I cannot remotely aspire.

Mr. Maclean

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I too was going to point out that the Labour Government have blocked more than 30 Bills so far this Session. Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, on most Fridays, Ministers have congratulated him, and sometimes even myself, on tabling amendments that improved Bills? I will give the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) the references if he wants me to do so; I have used them extensively in press releases.

Mr. Forth

I hope my right hon. Friend will share those references with me. I would probably find them useful as well.

The time element is bogus. The truth is that, if Members wanted to find more time, they would be perfectly capable of doing so. The tragedy is that there is a conspiracy among those who manage our time: they send Members away from here as much as possible, but then have the gall to come here and say that there is not enough time.

I also dispute the notion that there is huge demand for the change. It strikes me as bizarre that it is proposed that the quorum of the exciting new development, for which there is such demand, should be three. We have been told by those who have participated in the debate that the new Chamber will be crowded with excited Members who have important matters to debate—but the quorum is to be set at three. That does not suggest any great demand.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)

Would the right hon. Gentleman remind us how many Members voted on Friday at the end of the debate on the private Member's Bill?

Mr. Forth

Yes, three Members voted on Friday. That only three of them were here to vote is surely a disgraceful condemnation of the 417 Labour Members of Parliament. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the number voting was a shameful display of Labour Members' lack of interest in the House of Commons.

I doubt that the change is to be carried out as an experiment. We have heard that before and we know that change is a one-way street. I remember hearing that televising the House was to be an experiment, yet it was automatically continued because of a sort of momentum that such developments gather. We know that changes that are designated experiments are rarely reversed, because a sense of ownership develops among those who have a vested interest. I also doubt the reassurances in respect of expenditure.

Mr. Tyler

I am fascinated by the right hon. Gentleman's new line of argument. Is he saying that we should never experiment or make any change; or that, if any change is to be made, it should not be experimental? He would appear to be arguing in favour of one or the other of those propositions, but I do not understand which.

Mr. Forth

I am not a great advocate of change and I make no secret of that. I am generally rather satisfied with the way the House runs under your excellent tutelage and guidance, Madam Speaker, so 1 am in no rush to make gratuitous and unnecessary changes.

Mr. Maclean

Those hon. Members who are in favour of the new system and suggest that it is somehow evolutionary ignore the fact that Prime Minister's Question Time has been changed, initially without Madam Speaker's consent, and that the House of Lords is to be abolished. Wholesale changes are being made to Parliament, so to suggest that the proposed development is a minor change that can be treated in isolation is preposterous.

Mr. Forth

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Therefore, I feel no sense of shame when I say that I am not a great advocate of or enthusiast for change.

To return to the subject of expenditure, 1 was about to refer to appendix 4, headed "Further Letter from the Serjeant at Arms" and dated as recently as March 1999. The Serjeant at Arms gives the total cost of this foolish exercise as £870,000 and adds, most revealingly:

"there is no provision for expenditure of the order of £870k on the Grand Committee Room in next year's estimates … and the indications are still that a Supplementary Estimate will be required for the Works Vote to cover the costs of the work."

So much for the bogus claims that the proposal carries no financial implications and can somehow be fudged through under existing expenditure plans.

Mr. Pike

What I said was that the money was in the rolling programme. The Serjeant at Arms made it absolutely clear that, if we did not spend the money this year, it would be spent within the next two years, or three years at most. The money had to be spent on things that urgently needed doing.

Mr. Forth

I am sure that the taxpayer will be hugely reassured that this is all part of rolling expenditure. Taxpayers must feel really relieved to be told, "Don't worry—it was all going to be rolling expenditure, but it's just been brought forward a bit." I do not believe that and I do not suppose that most of the taxpayers I encounter will either.

I shall now speak briefly on the substance of amendments that you have kindly selected, Madam Speaker. I hope to divide the House at the appropriate time. The first simply reflects my belief that, instead of giving the new chamber the rather misleading name of "Westminster Hall"—I cannot imagine where that term comes from, since it is not Westminster Hall that we are dealing with—we should call it the "Commons Committee". If we are to have it at all—I would rather we did not have it, and I want to vote against the substance of it—we should call it the Commons Committee to make it clear that, were such a ghastly experiment to be embarked on, it would be clearly subsidiary to proceedings in the Chamber of the House of Commons.

My second amendment seeks to retain Wednesday morning sittings in this Chamber and to make anything that happens in another Chamber subsidiary to debates in this place. There is no question that what happens in another Chamber can be a substitute for sittings in this place. We must make that absolutely clear.

I also seek modestly—I was tempted to pitch the figure higher—to make the quorum six instead of three. I have thought about this issue for some time. Presumably a Minister would be present, with a Whip on duty, perhaps an Opposition spokesperson and the perpetrator of the debate. Therefore, I think that a token extra two or three Members should be sufficient to signify the huge demand that we are constantly told there will be for such debates. If we are to believe the comments this evening, this Chamber is normally crowded with 40 or 50 Members of Parliament. Therefore, I think it is reasonable to rule a sitting of the parallel Chamber inquorate if there are fewer than six Members present. That is a reasonable level so as to test demand.

The absurd, politically correct and consensual hemicycle arrangement must be resisted as a continental nonsense run wild. I make this point with some feeling because—I do not often admit this in the Chamber, but I shall do so to the few friends sitting around me—I was once a member of an institution that met in a hemicycle. For five fascinating years, I sat at a desk with a microphone and a voting machine. That institution was called the European Parliament—I say that as quietly as I can, Madam Speaker. I must make that admission about my past, but I cannot say that I was too enamoured of the arrangement. This Chamber allows for much more lively and legitimate debate, and it is far better than having Members sitting in designated places, usually reading from pre-prepared speeches and breaking the Standing Orders, as has been mentioned in the debate.

Those are my reasons for opposing this change. I think it is unnecessary, dangerous, expensive and almost certainly irreversible. I fear that it will divert attention away from the Chamber and feed the myth that the Leader of the House and others are attempting to perpetuate, that somehow there is huge pressure on the time of the House. The truth is that, if we wanted to find the time, we could sit on Fridays, reduce the recesses and not rise a day early. We could also shorten debates that do not generate sufficient interest and spontaneously debate other issues. Admittedly, such changes would require a degree of commitment from hon. Members that I suggest is simply not there any more. For that reason, more than any other, I regret this measure.

8.58 pm
Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)

I am delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) in the debate because an article that I read in yesterday's newspaper prompted me to seek to catch your eye this evening, Madam Speaker. In yesterday's Sunday Telegraph, the right hon. Gentleman is reported as saying that he believes that the Government are creating another opportunity for hon. Members to drone on and on. I nearly choked on my breakfast when I read that—a case of a sootier pot calling a kettle black I have never heard of.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the sitting hours of the House and said that our recesses are too long. However, he ignores completely the fact that hon. Members have constituency duties that many of us try to discharge well, and that requires considerable amounts of time. If I were given a magic wand with which to reform the House in any way that I saw fit, I would grant the extensions of time in this Chamber to which the right hon. Gentleman referred as well as establishing a parallel Chamber in Westminster Hall. I think we could occupy both Chambers for greater lengths of time by debating important issues that concern our constituents.

Opposition Members often say that the purpose of the House of Commons is to challenge the Executive and hold it to account, yet tonight some of them are rejecting the opportunity to do that to a greater extent.

Mr. Maclean

Does the hon. Gentleman seriously think for one moment that his Government would introduce and support these proposals if they thought that they would result in the Government having to be more accountable to Parliament?

Dr. Ladyman

Yes, I do. The Government have introduced many reforms of the House. I shall give the right hon. Gentleman two examples. First, he and I sat on the Select Committee that considered the draft Bill to set up the Food Standards Agency. That procedure had not been used before and gave the House an opportunity to examine Government legislation in greater detail.

Secondly, I have just finished participating in a Special Standing Committee considering the Immigration and Asylum Bill, which was another attempt by the Government to increase parliamentary scrutiny. Previous Conservative Governments set up no such Committees in their 18 years in power.

Several hon. Members have made a slip of the tongue and referred to the proposed experiment as the Westminster Hall Committee. As I understand the proposals, they do not relate to a Committee, but specifically refer to the House sitting in Westminster Hall.

Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East)

How can that possibly be if the sittings will involve only 51 Members?

Dr. Ladyman

Under the proposed arrangements, all Members will have the opportunity to attend and sit in Westminster Hall. There are not enough seats in this Chamber to accommodate every Member, so how many seats are available in the new Chamber is neither here nor there.

My point is that we cannot argue that the House will be diminished when all that is being proposed is that the House should sit in a place other than this Chamber. The same Members will be contributing to the debates and the quality of the debates will be entirely dependent on the quality of those Members, just as it is in this Chamber. I therefore reject the argument that the House will be diminished.

The proposals will allow us to debate a wider range of subjects. If I have any criticism of the report it is that the proposals will not allow a sufficiently wide range of subjects to be debated in the new Chamber, and I hope that the range will be extended in the future. I wrote to the Modernisation Committee and suggested that we could reasonably assign to the new Chamber the Committee stages of constitutional Bills. At present, those debates occur on the Floor of the House.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is my hon. Friend suggesting that changes to the United Kingdom's constitution should be debated in a subsidiary room in which only 50 Members can appear?

Dr. Ladyman

I am absolutely not suggesting that because the proposal is not for a subsidiary room but for the House to sit in Westminster Hall.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Does not my hon. Friend agree that the one thing that experience teaches us about this place is that the chances of being called to speak are pretty slim? In a 51-Member Chamber, will not the chances of a Member being called be even slimmer?

Dr. Ladyman

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will deal with that point in a moment because the answer to his question is one of the most important reasons why we should set up such a Chamber.

In addition, the new Chamber could consider certain aspects of European legislation. The Select Committee on European Scrutiny recommends that many aspects of European legislation should be debated on the Floor of the House, but we cannot do so. Is there not an opportunity for extending the scrutiny of European legislation?

Mr. McNulty

Does my hon. Friend agree that there might be further opportunity to have those debates on the Floor of the House if we retained Wednesday morning sittings, rather than abolishing them as the report suggests?

Dr. Ladyman

My hon. Friend makes a good suggestion. When the experiment is reviewed, no doubt one of the proposals that we could consider is restoring Wednesday morning sittings in addition to having sittings in Westminster Hall.

My final reason why Westminster Hall will be a great improvement to the Chamber is that it will provide more speaking opportunities for the Members who have so few opportunities to speak in this Chamber.

You, Madam Speaker, spend a great deal of your time—it is one of your most important duties—trying to be fair in calling Back Benchers. It would be disrespectful if I called what goes on in your office when deciding who should be called as black art, so I shall refer to it as divine magic. Although it is pretty impenetrable to me, I can work out some of the factors that you consider when deciding whom to call.

You balance the debate; you do not reflect the membership of the House. Given that 60 per cent. of hon. Members sit on the Government Benches, and only 40 per cent. on the Opposition Benches, we on the Government Benches are at an immediate disadvantage.

Mr. Christopher Fraser (Mid-Dorset and North Poole)

Come and join us.

Dr. Ladyman

I am loth to answer that sedentary intervention.

Government Members have far fewer opportunities to be called. One of the factors that you probably take into consideration, Madam Speaker, is the frequency with which we have contributed to debate. By the end of a parliamentary year, a Government Member who has contributed less than oneself is more likely to be called first. One is therefore increasingly unlikely to be called not only in important debates, but even in relatively less significant ones.

As it works out, new Government Members can be called probably only six or seven times a year. That means that we must manage our contributions—not using up all our opportunities to speak—so that we may have a reasonable chance of being called later in the year in debates that are important to our constituents. A further Chamber, sitting in parallel, could provide an opportunity to contribute to debates on Select Committee reports, for example—many of which are important to our constituents—without using up our opportunities to speak.

Mr. Bermingham

A sudden thought has occurred to me; perhaps my hon. Friend will tell me, from his vast experience, how to solve it. What if there is a vote in this Chamber and a vote in that Chamber at the same time?

Dr. Ladyman

My hon. Friend has clearly not read the report; there will not be any Divisions in the other Chamber. However, when we review the experiment, we should consider ways of allowing controversial subjects to be debated there. The experiment should not end simply with consideration of whether we continue with a parallel Chamber. If we think that it has been a success, we should consider whether to extend it, introduce controversy and schedule Divisions in two separate Chambers on the same evening.

The proposal is only an experiment. It would be a relatively minor change. I do not believe that it is the fundamental shift in importance from this Chamber that other hon. Members are suggesting. It is a way in which to enhance this Chamber and our debate—a means by which we may debate some subjects that will make our constituents sit up and take notice once more, instead of ignoring us as they do at the moment. [Interruption.] Opposition Members can laugh as much as they like, but their antics are the reason why people do not want to report the proceedings in this Chamber any more. The proposals are a way of addressing some of those concerns.

9.9 pm

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I hope that the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) is not going to spoil what this report says. There will be debates in what I would prefer to call the Commons Committee rather than sittings in Westminster Hall. That would clearly indicate that that Chamber, although part of this Chamber, was subordinate to it.

The Leader of the House was right to emphasise—it was emphasised too by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young)—that all matters debated in the Commons Committee would have been agreed across the Floor of the House and that votes would not take place. The experiment that I think the House will decide should go ahead is based on the Australian experience. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that votes do not take place in that Chamber either.

Dr. Ladyman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Winterton

I will give way once to the hon. Gentleman.

Dr. Ladyman

I want to clarify my position. I fully accept that the experiment being proposed is exactly as the hon. Gentleman has explained, and I am delighted about that. I am merely saying that, if when we look at the results of the experiment we think it has been a success, we may then feel that we might like to consider extending it.

Mr. Winterton

I hope—I say this both as a Conservative Member and as a member of the Modernisation Committee—that our Chairman, the Leader of the House, would not seek to present proposals that would take us down that path. She nods, which suggests that she would not want that.

I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), who is also a member of the Modernisation Committee. He made a good point. The right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), who chairs the Liaison Committee, is present. It is vital for that Committee to play a pivotal role in deciding what Select Committee reports are debated in the sittings in Westminster Hall or what I shall again call the Commons Committee. We must keep the decision away from Government, Opposition and the usual channels if Select Committees are to retain and maintain their integrity, and their authority to hold the Government of the day to account and scrutinise the success or otherwise of their management of the country.

The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) and I agree on one or two elements in the report. One thing that she highlighted was that the video produced by the Australian Main Committee, which was viewed by all members of the Modernisation Committee, did nothing to sell the experiment to the House. I suspect that, if other Members of Parliament had seen the video, more of those who are enthused by what they read in the Modernisation Committee report would take a different view. It was boring beyond words. Let me tell my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) that only the required quorum was there to take part in what was a very turgid debate.

The House ignores the views of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) at its peril. Let me say, as a Conservative Member, that she is an immensely impressive politician.

Mrs. Dunwoody

The hon. Gentleman is doing my reputation no good.

Mr. Winterton

The hon. Lady may say that, but she is highly regarded, and I believe that her understanding of democracy and the way in which the House operates is second to none. Her earlier contribution was very helpful.

I make my speech wearing two hats. I am a member of the Modernisation Committee; I also have the honour and privilege of chairing the Procedure Committee. Many of the matters with which the Modernisation Committee is dealing are also part of the responsibility of the Procedure Committee. Wearing my modernisation hat, I am principally concerned about the primacy, the integrity, the sovereignty, the role and the authority of the House of Commons—of this Chamber. What worries me is that the House is being bypassed in so much of what I see going on. I do not wish to make any reference to rulings and utterances that you, Madam Speaker, have delivered from the Chair, but the importance of the Chamber must never be understated.

Many people say that there is too much legislation and never enough time to debate it all. I say from some experience in the House that there is too much legislation and too little debate. We should have more debate. That is why I personally warmly support the proposals in the Modernisation Committee's report that we should have more genuine debates in the House. Whether they are on the Floor of this Chamber, or in the Grand Committee Room—the Commons Committee—is a matter for debate.

Mr. Forth

Given that my hon. Friend shared my view that, usually, very few Members would be in the alternative Chamber, how would that enhance the quality of debate overall in the Palace of Westminster?

Mr. Winterton

I will come to that, so I ask my right hon. Friend to be patient.

I support another proposition that the Modernisation Committee has put forward: there should be more pre-legislative scrutiny. If that takes place, better legislation will come before the House and less time will be spent in Standing Committee, during remaining stages or in the Committee of the whole House. Therefore, certain pluses are coming out of the report.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has rightly referred to the attendance in the Chamber. It is something of which I am ashamed. When we are televised and people see just a handful of Members in the House—on either side—people get the wrong impression. I almost wish that I were able to be here, but, as you know, Madam Speaker, my other duties in the House rightly take me elsewhere, whether it is—although it does not meet when the House is sitting—the Modernisation Committee, or the Procedure Committee, some of whose members are in the House and hoping to speak. We meet concurrently with the House and do an important job, although people looking on debates in this Chamber would not appreciate that fact.

I raise a matter that I have raised with the Leader of the House before. There is a problem in Committees in achieving a quorum. On two occasions, we have had to cancel an important Procedure Committee sitting to discuss the procedural consequences of devolution because we could not achieve a quorum of members to enable us to sit. If we have bad attendances in the Chamber and find it difficult to man Committees, clearly, we will need to take account of the problems that will arise because of another Committee, or another sitting in Westminster hall, which will be concurrent with what is going on in the House itself.

Mr. Brady

I wonder whether my hon. Friend would bear it in mind that sittings in Westminster Hall could contribute to the problems of Select Committees in achieving a quorum.

Mr. Winterton

Indeed. That is why I have raised the issue. I have raised it in the Modernisation Committee, through correspondence with the Leader of the House and, for that matter, correspondence with the Whips, of both the Government and Opposition parties. The Leader of the House has taken the matter on board. Clearly, the House will have to take it into account in reaching a decision tonight.

I want to be positive in respect of the role that I play as Chairman of the Procedure Committee. The Committee is sympathetic to the Modernisation Committee's proposal as it provides more time for debates, which all hon. Members may attend. That is particularly pertinent as devolution will necessitate some changes in the way in which the House operates and conducts its business.

One of the problems that the Procedure Committee has had to consider in its inquiry on the procedural consequences of devolution has been the future of Grand Committees, which currently comprise a set of the House's Committees. As many hon. Members will be aware, before devolution, such Committees provided a mechanism whereby hon. Members representing parts of the United Kingdom with distinctive identities—Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—could present their views. Now, the new devolved legislatures will themselves be able to make representations to the United Kingdom Government. Therefore—in my view, and that of my Committee—there is no need for such double representation.

None the less, devolution should not mean that there should be no debate at Westminster on matters relating to Scotland or Wales. My Committee and I believe that many of the matters previously referred to Grand Committees—such as the implications of the Budget for Wales—will remain proper and desirable subjects for debate in the House. However, as our report states, the Procedure Committee was attracted to the principle

"that Members from all parts of the United Kingdom should be able to participate in debates held in the United Kingdom Parliament."

I believe that continuation of Grand Committees would undermine that principle. We therefore propose making some savings—which I hope will enable hon. Members who sat on the Grand Committees to be available elsewhere.

The increased opportunity for debate offered by Westminster Hall means that debates on matters relating to Scotland, Wales or—dare I add it—even England could be taken in a forum in which all hon. Members could participate, be it in the Commons Committee, in Westminster Hall, or the Chamber itself. Indeed, the Procedure Committee was so interested in the proposal that it rushed out its "Second Interim Report on the Procedural Consequences of Devolution", so that the House could have notice of its thinking before any early debate on the subject that we are now debating. Today, the Committee published its full report on the "Procedural Consequences of Devolution".

It is important that we should seize the opportunity offered by Westminster Hall if United Kingdom Members are to have the opportunity to learn from one another's experiences. I wonder how many Labour Members know that, currently, no English Member other than a Minister may participate in the Scottish Grand Committee, and that only five may join the Welsh Grand Committee. Those debates may, in principle, be read after the event, but I should be surprised if they had a wide circulation.

If devolution results in things being done better—as they may be—in Scotland and in Wales, all hon. Members should have the chance to hear about them and to discuss the Scottish or the Welsh experience. Similarly—as I am sure that you, Madam Speaker, will be aware—policies on reserved matters affecting the highlands may have similar effects on remote parts of England and of Wales. Hon. Members from all countries may have an interest in debating those matters.

The Procedure Committee recommended that

"once devolved government is in place and for the period of the experiment with the sittings in Westminster Hall, the Grand Committees be suspended."

Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm, having participated in the Procedure Committee's discussions on the issue, that Committee members were concerned that no precedence should be given in the new Committee to debates that would previously have been held in Grand Committees, and that those debates should take their place alongside other debates in seeking to use the additional opportunity?

Mr. Winterton

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He also plays an important part in the business of the Procedure Committee. I congratulate him on his regular attendance of the Committee, thereby enabling us to maintain a quorum.

I believe that the House will have to be very careful in taking the decision that it will take today. Some dramatic changes are proposed that may have an unfortunate effect on the integrity, sovereignty, role and authority of the House.

Like the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich, I am concerned about the hemicycle. I would have much preferred a similar layout to this Chamber. The cost is estimated at £870,000. I think that it will be much more. It is likely to be close to £1 million. The example of the new parliamentary building across the road shows how contracts can overrun. I am concerned about our ability to find such a large sum at the drop of a hat. I remind the hon. Member for Burnley that the money is being brought forward from 2002-06, when the expenditure would otherwise have been incurred. We are finding a great deal of money to carry out the experiment. I hope that the Leader of the House will assure me that the amount spent during the experiment will be kept to a minimum. Only if the experiment is a success should we proceed with the full expenditure.

Mrs. Beckett

I am not entirely sure what the hon. Gentleman is asking, but he knows the position. It is proposed that work on the Grand Committee Room that was scheduled should be brought forward. Any further expenditure should be kept to a minimum. He will remember that I asked about the need for the additional expenditure. The House authorities have undertaken to see whether it is possible to provide all the funds that would be required within the leeway for this year.

Mr. Winterton

I thank the right hon. Lady for that clarification. I remember her raising the matter and I know that she shares my concern that in the experimental period the expenditure should be kept to a minimum, although we disagreed about the layout in the Grand Committee Room.

I shall consider deeply which way to vote, but I have a nasty feeling that my traditionalism may prevail.

9.27 pm
Mr. Keith Darvill (Upminster)

I am in favour of the motion. Since being elected to the House, I have had the privilege of sitting on the Procedure Committee, which has been very active. It is good to follow the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who chairs the Committee.

As well as the procedural consequences of devolution, the Procedure Committee has considered resource accounting and budgeting, which has not been mentioned so far. It is clear from the Committee's detailed examination of the issue that considerable additional information will be available to Select Committees to enable them to examine the finances of the Departments that they shadow.

We have already heard statistics on the number of Select Committee reports that are not considered. With the availability of that additional information, it is even more important that the reports are examined in the Chamber or in Westminster Hall. If not, the considerable work that is undertaken by hon. Members will seem wasted, as will the benefit of the close examination and scrutiny of the Executive that Select Committees provide.

I agree with most of the recommendations. The main benefit that will flow from a positive decision this evening is the additional time that will be made available to debate Select Committee reports. Paragraph 27 of the report says: we see Westminster Hall as a forum which will provide additional opportunities for select committees. Many hours are devoted to Select Committees by hon. Members. To debate only 10 per cent. of reports in any one year shows that the House is not functioning properly and not holding the Executive to account. This is not a new matter, as the Liaison Committee underlined the need for further examination of Select Committees in 1997. This theme has developed as the role of Select Committees has evolved.

The British constitution is slow to change. The reform of the House of Lords has been agonisingly slow, and has taken the best part of this century. The evolution of Select Committees has moved at a faster pace. We are at a time of considerable change, with the procedural consequences of devolution and resource accounting and budgeting. Failing to allow Select Committee reports in particular to be examined as they should be means that we are not doing our constituents or ourselves any favours. I believe that not only Select Committees but Green Papers and other matters should be examined.

Mr. Bermingham

Just to prove to the Liberal Democrats that I have read the report, I should point out that one of the problems is that people might say "Object" to Select Committee reports being debated in the new Chamber. It might be as well for the Government to take away that blockage. From experience, Select Committee reports and Green Papers are not debated, and will not be debated, if three people—or whatever the quorum is—ay "Object".

Mr. Darvill

My hon. Friend raises an important point, and the procedures are evolving. If hon. Members do not want the system to work, they can stop it. If so, the trial will not have worked, and it will be for us to come back and consider the matter. I hope that Members will not take those measures to thwart the will of the House, and that the real benefits that can be obtained from this experiment will be delivered.

Mr. Stunell

Could I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that the provision to object relates only to Government-proposed business and would not apply to Select Committee reports, meaning that the intervention by the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) was unfortunately mistaken?

Mr. Darvill

I thank the hon. Gentleman for highlighting that point, and I hope that the House supports the measures tonight.

9.33 pm
Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry)

I am somewhat reluctantly prepared to give this proposal a cautious welcome. One of the reasons for that is that it appears that, by and large, legislation will stay in the Chamber. I am cautious because of a number of proposals in the report, including that we should have a semi-circular arrangement. I thought that we had the perfectly sound principle of cross-Bench seating to allow those who wished to sit on the fence to sit squarely on it. I suppose that the Government, with their majority, will ram this through the House—have done with so many things—ill wind up with that arrangement.

When matters are brought to the House, I often wonder what the real intentions of the Government are. I have been here for a number of years, and I have never yet seen a Government making changes to the procedures to be helpful to the Opposition or to Back Benchers. I do not think that that is the intention in this case, either.

I am somewhat curious about the type of debate that we may have. Some of us will want to probe, to ask questions and to be more constructive than is sometimes the case across this Chamber, but others will be doing a publicity job for their own area to boost their standing with their constituents. We all understand that that will go on; the question is how on earth we are to keep it under control.

Guillotine motions have been an increasing feature of life in recent years. Does the move to Westminster Hall mean that there will be fewer of those and that there will be more public debate in the main Chamber, allowing all hon. Members to air their concerns, or will all such business move too, giving us an opportunity to speak there that has been denied us here?

The Leader of the House said that she thought that there would be better scrutiny of legislation and of Government. How are the Government to be called to account in the Committee? Will those who take part in the debates be able to send for papers and persons, as in Select Committees?

Mrs. Beckett

I think that there has been a slight misunderstanding, as I did not suggest that the new Committee would provide greater opportunity for scrutiny of legislation as such. I spoke merely of enhancing parliamentary scrutiny as a whole, in that there will be opportunities for hon. Members to hold Ministers to account in debate.

Mr. Ross

I am grateful for that explanation, because it means that whenever we do not get an answer in Westminster Hall, we can bring the matter back here and put pressure on the Government by asking more questions.

The Government clearly believe that the change will not be as popular as the trailers have suggested. The fact that a quorum of three is deemed sufficient says a lot about the importance that we are prepared to attach to the new institution.

I know, and all but the most recent Members should know, that Governments hate debate, as it is very dangerous for them; that is why they always try to restrict it. They have a problem with legislation because they cannot retreat; they have to press on, and the longer the debate goes on, the more likely it is that weaknesses and imperfections will be exposed. We saw the result of that only last week.

We should always look for a longer time scale in legislation. I would much prefer to be in this Chamber. I would like the general public to have time to examine legislation as it goes through the House on a much longer time scale. Time is the vital consideration for the House; it is the enemy of Government, who know that Back Benchers will make use of it. The restriction of time is the weapon that Governments use to get their way before people have properly thought through what they are doing. We should consider how on earth we can extend the opportunities for debate.

The proposal has some advantages for minor parties and for those who want to raise issues that may be minor in the national context but are of local or regional importance. Northern Ireland Members will be glad of the opportunity to have more Northern Ireland business discussed in the precincts of the Palace of Westminster.

Unlike some Opposition Members, I welcome the proposal to move the Wednesday morning debates to Westminster Hall. The loss of the chance for the public to see this place on a Wednesday morning has been a loss to the community at large, and I hope that the morning will be free again, because the more the general public can come here, the better for democracy.

I regret the fact that we do not have the late-night debates that we used to have. That is a great loss to the community as a whole.

9.39 pm
Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I am pleased to have had the privilege of being a member of the Modernisation Committee. That is not because the word "modernisation" makes me think, "Oh, great, we can change everything tomorrow", nor is it because—as my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) did not suggest—I am the sort of Member who thinks, "Modernisation? Oh dear. What can I do to prevent any change in what happens in the House?" I believe strongly that it is good for every institution, whether a family, big business or Parliament, to consider how it is fulfilling its role and how it wants to change. I also know from experience that nothing focuses the mind more than changing the furniture, moving to a different room, changing the bedroom that a child sleeps in or changing the room that someone uses as an office. That is why this has been a constructive and interesting debate.

Using the same analogy, the usual excuse given for not changing something is cost. There is money in future budgets for upgrading the Grand Committee Room in Westminster Hall. If the House accepts the proposals before us today, I would be delighted to bring that money forward so that Westminster Hall, which is at the historical heart of this parliamentary building, can be made into a room of which we can be really proud. Some of us had the privilege of seeing it laid out as it would he, and we could also imagine the enhanced lift for the disabled—the current method of getting disabled people up to those rooms is not very dignified. The costs would be minimal. We are spending £250 million on Portcullis house and we are talking about much less than £1 million for a development that would enhance the Houses of Parliament as a whole.

I agree with those hon. Members who have said that what happens in this Chamber is of paramount importance. These proposals can only enhance the Chamber. I agree with the right hon. Member for North—West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) who believes—as you do, Madam Speaker—that ministerial statements should be made to the House and not on Radio 4. These proposals will leave the Chamber free for Ministers to make their statements—[Interruption.] I agree with Opposition Members, who are laughing, that that is the correct approach.

Attendance in the Chamber has been mentioned, but it falls when the Chamber is abused. I find all-night sittings silly, time wasting and bad for the brain. They do nothing to enhance the reputation of the Chamber and a lot of silliness is often spoken during them.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I hope that my hon. Friend will not think that I am being unkind if I say that a lot of silliness is often spoken earlier in the day in the Chamber.

Helen Jackson

A lot of silliness is spoken in many parts of this building all through the day.

I strongly support the early, radical recommendation of the Modernisation Committee that the majority of Bills should be timetabled. I refer hon. Members back to last week, when we talked all night on an issue that aroused strong feelings on all sides. Hardly anyone was listening, and the media were not interested. When the debate was rescheduled in prime time on a timetable motion, good points were made by hon. Members of all parties. It was an excellent debate and, as it happened, the Government won the vote. People were able to listen to the arguments, and the time chosen was appropriate for discussion of an issue that interested everyone in the House. There was no question of poor attendance last Thursday.

It is within our power to examine the way in which we discuss legislation and to ensure that this Chamber is used to discuss key issues in which everyone is interested. The new Chamber in Westminster Hall will release time in which this Chamber can be used better.

I do not want to go over what has been said about the benefits to be gained from the proposals for Westminster Hall. From my time on the former Select Committee on the Environment, I know that discussion of Select Committee reports in this Chamber either happens too late, when the issue concerned has gone off the boil, or does not happen at all.

The extra time that will be allowed for private Members' business means that the expertise that Back Benchers bring from their former professions and lives will be used more effectively. Also, although it may be heresy to some people, I think that it might be appropriate to move the Wednesday morning sittings to Westminster Hall as a pilot experiment. Wednesday is the most popular day for the public to come to Parliament, as Prime Minister's Questions are held on that day. At present there is no opportunity for people to see the Chamber in the morning.

I agree with what has been said about debates on foreign affairs and estimates. However, I agree with paragraph 17 of the report's board of management memorandum, which expresses the hope that use of the second Chamber for Government business will not be ruled out. I shall be interested in whether discussion of some delegated legislation may be more suitably allocated to Westminster Hall.

In addition, some of the early discussions of specialist matters arising from Green Papers may give rise to debates that are wider and better thought out than is possible here, where the lack of available time means that they are squeezed for space. I also want to add my voice to those hon. Members who have endorsed the idea that the Westminster Hall Chamber will be distinctly different. The format for debates will be different, and I welcome that.

Those hon. Members who are worried about whether the new forum will take off are right to ask whether the media will be interested. In the previous Parliament, I spent a lot of time on matters to do with water and the environment. The members of the media interested in those subjects tended to be the environmental correspondents and the specialist media, who did not enjoy the luxury of the facilities extended to the Lobby correspondents.

That may not be popular with the Lobby correspondents, who like to feel that Parliament is about gossip, cut and thrust, and Prime Minister's Question Time—but the specialist media should be given enhanced facilities in the House, and this is an opportunity to provide them. This proposal could be good for Parliament, helping to persuade the public that we are not simply concerned with Prime Minister's Question Time, while the Chamber is otherwise empty. It should show that we are concerned to debate the key issues of the day, that all arguments are heard and that we are not just party hacks. It should show that whatever party we belong to, we are interested in raising arguments, listening to each other and discussing matters.

I hope that Westminster Hall will provide a fresh and responsible approach. The reform is cost effective, brilliantly using a part of the House that embodies the heart of the old parliamentary buildings.

9.51 pm
Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

I listened to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Helen Jackson) with increasing incredulity. She said that decamping the House of Commons—not a Committee—on certain days to a poky room above the cafeteria off Westminster Hall would somehow enhance the status of the Chamber. Even if that poky room has a £1 million refurbishment, decamping to it will not enhance the status of the House of Commons. I oppose the report because I believe that it will, yet again, diminish the status of the House and of Madam Speaker. There is no need for it.

My incredulity increased when the hon. Lady suggested that if a parallel Chamber met elsewhere, there would somehow he time for Ministers to make statements to the House. Ha! That beggars belief. The diminution of the status of this House has come not from evolutionary change but, over the past two years, from revolutionary change. Prime Minister's Question Time has been arbitrarily changed, without consultation with Madam Speaker. The other place is being destroyed although we have been given no model with which to replace it. Again and again, statements are made outside the House. Today's was another example. All that diminishes the status of this place.

I do not believe that there is any need for a parallel Chamber to debate the issues mentioned. Time is available in this House if we wish to use it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has pointed out that we are rising a day early for the Whitsun recess. There was an attempt to give us an extra week's holiday before the Easter recess, and we took three days of it. Last summer, the recess was one of the longest in history. There is time to debate issues if the House wants to do so.

Fridays have also been reduced and are used purely for private Members' business. If there is an overwhelming demand for Adjournment debates, let hon. Members slot in 10 of them on a Friday. At half an hour each, we could easily do so.

Mrs. Beckett

I have forborne to correct the many Conservative Members who have referred to the changes on Fridays. However, I recall that those changes resulted from the Jopling report, under the previous Government. They were nothing to do with the present Government.

Mr. Maclean

I accept that those changes were consequences of the Jopling report, but not everything in that report was to the benefit of the House. If there is a demand for more Adjournment debates, let them be held on a Friday, or let them continue to be held in the Chamber on a Wednesday morning. Let us not detract even further from the status of the House.

I will share a little anecdote with the House, which I think is instructive. When I was made an Environment Minister in 1992, we held the presidency of the European Union. We held an informal ministerial meeting here. We arranged a nice hotel to meet all the Ministers, which was the normal practice. I was waiting on the steps to greet the German Minister—one of the most important—who turned up in the British Government ministerial Rover Sterling, which we had allocated to him. The hotel flunkies jumped to help him with his bags. At that moment, a fleet of Daimlers rolled up. The hotel flunkies dropped the German Minister's bags, rushed to the Daimlers and treated the occupants like royalty. Of course, they were the civil servants from the Commission, who had decided to hire their own fleet. The point is this—as someone in the hotel said when we protested about the treatment of the German Minister—"If you drive around like royalty, you'll be treated like royalty."

You are the Speaker of this House of Commons, Madam Speaker. If we move to a Committee room at the other side of Westminster Hall not to hold a Committee there but to hold what is effectively a sitting of the House of Commons, and it is chaired not by Madam Speaker but by a Deputy Speaker and by other Assistant Speakers, we will again be diminishing the status of the Chamber.

Dr. Starkey

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the logic of his statement is that when Madam Speaker is, regrettably, unable to be in charge of the Chamber and one of her deputies is substituting, the status of this Chamber is somehow diminished?

Mr. Maclean

That was not my point at all. This is the Chamber—[Interruption.] My point is that if the House of Commons is no longer meeting in this Chamber, which is adequate to hold most of the Members of the House, but decides to move to a Committee Room above the cafeteria on the other side of Westminster Hall, where Madam Speaker will never be in the Chair—at best it will be a Deputy Speaker—that will be perceived by the media and others as a much lesser form of House of Commons, as indeed it will be because, at most, 51 Members—

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I am a little concerned about my right hon. Friend's derogatory remarks because I might be one of those hon. Members in the Chair.

Mr. Maclean

My hon. Friend has many talents and qualities, but he is not the Speaker of the House of Commons. Our debates in this Chamber can be presided over by the Speaker; our debates in the Room above the café will be presided over by, at most, a Deputy Speaker. That in itself is another small but significant diminution in the status of this Chamber.

Comments have been made about the furniture. Listening to some hon. Ladies on the Labour Benches telling us that the furniture, the design of the room and the colours are important, I thought that we were about to have another lecture on interior decorating and design.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) made an excellent speech. She proved that there can be complete agreement across the Floor of this House. I agree with everything that the hon. Lady said, both in her speech and in her interventions. We did not need to sit in some cosy hemicycle to come to that agreement. The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) talked about a semi-circle, but it is a hemicycle and there is a big difference, I understand.

There is no need for this proposal because there is ample time if we want it. We must puncture a few myths. Hon. Members say that there is great demand for Select Committee reports to be debated. Let us be honest. Who are we kidding? The only demand comes from some of the members of the Select Committees, who want to take over another Chamber of the House to debate the same report that they have spent weeks discussing in the first place.

Select Committee reports are important, not because they will be debated three weeks, six weeks or six months later but because, on the day of publication—if they have not been leaked—the Committees can hold the Government to account. At that stage, they can cause the Government some hurt or injury, put them on the back foot and make them defend themselves. That is when Select Committee reports matter, not when they are debated in the room above the café six months later.

It is clear from what Labour Members said that they regard endless Adjournment debates as a major role for the new Chamber. Let us be honest again: Adjournment debates do not hold the Government to account. No Minister is terrified of them. I cannot recall ever swotting up for days worrying about an Adjournment debate; no one in this Government sweats about them either. Adjournment debates are loved by all Members, and we put in for them for one good reason: they are another justification for press releases because we can say that we raised an issue on the Floor of the House of Commons and give out a copy of our very important speeches to an almost packed House.

Let us be honest. Our press releases are based on our questions and speeches. As we cannot get into many of the important debates, Adjournment debates are another legitimate avenue. If hon. Members want endless Adjournment debates, I say once again and in conclusion, let them be held on Friday or Wednesday morning, but do not set up yet another Chamber that is supposed to be this House in miniature on the other side of Westminster Hall.

I am sorry, Madam Speaker: when I used the words "in conclusion", I told a slight untruth. My final point concerns the furniture. I notice—I think in schematic 5 of the hemicycle that we are urged to agree to tonight—that there is provision for a pulpit. We now know where the Prime Minister will sit.

10.1 pm

Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East)

I draw the attention of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) to paragraph 50. Should he venture into Westminster Hall, he will find that the Deputy Speaker and his colleagues have the power to discontinue a speech on the grounds of tedious repetition and irrelevance. Perhaps he should stay out altogether.

I have a few points, but I will not speak fully in favour of the report. This evening has been an example of how badly the House of Commons does these things. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) eloquently discussed the Procedure Committee's report on the consequences of devolution. At the same time, we had the Modernisation Committee's report on finding extra time above the police café in Westminster Hall. It would have made more sense if both Committees had met so that the Procedure Committee could have given its views on the consequences of devolution and the Modernisation Committee its views on finding more time for debate. A joint report could have been produced for the House, rather than discussing the Modernisation Committee report—I call it the Tinkering Committee—and then discussing the Procedure Committee report. That is daft.

I do not like members of the Modernisation Committee who wax lyrical with hyperbole and revolutionary fervour about what is nothing more than tinkering. I do not like many aspects of the proposals. I do not know how to overcome it but I do not like the fact that only 51 Members can get into the Room. What happens if 53 want to come? Will the Westminster Hall sittings be stopped and brought back to the main Chamber? The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) probably has at least 50 acquaintances, if not friends, whom he could persuade to fill that Chamber every now and then to avoid debate. The modernisation debate is not served by hyperbole and revolutionary fervour when we are talking only of a couple more hours of debate elsewhere.

I fundamentally disagree with the report about the House becoming a museum again on Wednesdays. Like other hon. Members, I take tours round, but above all, this must be a working Chamber. Its work must be paramount. I am disappointed that Wednesday mornings are excluded. When the private Members' Bill process is reformed, I should like such proceedings to be held on Wednesdays so that some of my northern comrades and Opposition colleagues could pop along and see what the process is all about. I come into the House every Friday, as do some other Members.

The proposals are not revolutionary. It is a shame that the Procedure Committee and the Modernisation Committee did not hold a joint meeting. We need to address the issue of furniture. I am not a hemispheric— [Interruption.] I am hemispheric, but I am not a hemispheric. The notion that, if we arrange the furniture, the politics will change—that the adversarial will go and consensus will arrive—is absolute nonsense. Hon. Members should consider the Westminster city council chamber or the Harrow council chamber. I was a member of Harrow council and I made pretty sure that there was no such thing as consensus, unless, as leader of the Labour group, the consensus was what the Labour group said it should be. In that sense, I accept consensus.

Let us not run a mile. The ideas are fine. The idea that there should be another Chamber in order that we can have more discussion is fine. If the amendments had been tabled by a Member whom I preferred, I might have supported them; I cannot, in all conscience, go into the Lobby to support an amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. However, as a modernising party or a modernising Chamber, we should not run away with the notion that the proposals are revolutionary. For God's sake, will the Modernisation Committee start being a modernising Committee and stop being a tinkering Committee that goes along at a snail's pace? The Committee is not even Fabian; it goes along at a snail's pace—at a dead snail's pace. Let us modernise properly, but scrap the hyperbole.

10.6 pm

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty). I nearly spoiled matters by introducing a note of consensus, even though that is not my preference in politics either. The hon. Gentleman saved me from that, however. I oppose the motion, but support the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton)—not only because the amendment could have no finer pedigree, but because any Members who take seriously the role of this Chamber must accept the arguments that have been advanced for the amendment. Those arguments include the following: that the meetings in Westminster Hall must be considered to be a Committee of the House and not in any way equivalent to what goes on in this Chamber; that we should hold Wednesday debates in this Chamber and that their removal would diminish the value of what goes on here; and that the seating in the new Committee Room should be on the same model as the seating in this Chamber. I have never disagreed with Labour Members simply because they sit opposite me—nor have I necessarily agreed with Members on the Opposition Benches because they sit on the same Benches as I do. Some of my hon. Friends have made the same point. However, the crucial point is that the seating arrangement matters. That is why it is essential that we retain the existing plan. The reason is that it assists scrutiny and makes it less likely that there will be cover-up and fudge. It makes proper questioning and debate more likely.

Most important, I support the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst that relate to the quorum. To suggest that there is a huge demand for sittings in Westminster Hall when the quorum is to be fixed at three gives the lie to the whole proposal.

Mr. Pike

In this Chamber, the quorum is only invoked when a vote is called. There is no stated quorum, so the quorum is often only three—or even less.

Mr. Brady

I am well aware of that point. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter. The proceedings in this Chamber might be improved if we had a quorum. The point demonstrates the problem in terms of the status of what we do and the attention that is paid to it. The issue is more about the quality of our proceedings and the genuine, intrinsic interest of debates—which sometimes draw only a small number of Members—than about the amount of time in which we have to deal with business.

The role of Select Committees has been discussed by several hon. Members—including the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike). It has been pointed out that many of those Committees have difficulty in achieving a quorum for their meetings. Again, that demonstrates the fact that Members do not always bother to turn up to debate important matters or to attend important meetings. In considering the new Committee in Westminster Hall, we are also led to the inescapable conclusion that there will be even more difficulties for Select Committees, which, in many cases, are struggling to achieve a quorum, when the limited number of occasions on which they can currently meet will conflict further with sittings of this House. That will cause significant problems for the more active Members of Parliament.

Some have suggested that the new Committee might serve as some sort of job creation scheme for Labour Members who currently have little to do, but I would counter that by arguing that many hon. Members who currently do rather a lot will find it impossible to participate fully in the additional work. Those who are involved in Standing Committees and Select Committees might want to participate in some of the meetings in Westminster Hall, but they will be unable to do so.

It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM SPEAKER put the Questions necessary to dispose of those proceedings, pursuant to Order [21 May.]

Amendment proposed: in line 3, at end add:

"except for paragraphs 17 and 24, and considers that the new sittings should be known as the Commons Committee; that the Wednesday morning sitting devoted to private members' business should not be transferred to Westminster Hall; and that the seating plan to be adopted should be as set out in Appendix 2 of the Report.".—[Mr. Forth.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:

The House proceeded to a Division

Mr. Robathan

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. We were categorically assured at the start of the debate—I believe that you were present—that this was not a payroll vote and that Government Members were not whipped. Is it in order for Government Whips to act as Tellers on the vote?

Madam Speaker

What Government Whips do is nothing to do with me. Hon. Members are free to use whichever Lobby they want—indeed, I am honoured because several hon. Members have, as they passed by the Chair, asked which way they should vote. That has never happened to me before.

The House having divided: Ayes 43, Noes 144.

Division No. 196] [10.11 pm
Amess, David Lidington, David
Barnes, Harry McIntosh, Miss Anne
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Bennett, Andrew F Nicholls, Patrick
Blunt, Crispin Öpik, Lembit
Brady, Graham Pickles, Eric
Burnett, John Randall, John
Clwyd, Ann Robathan, Andrew
Colvin, Michael Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
& Howden) Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Donohoe, Brian H Swayne, Desmond
Duncan Smith, Iain Wardle, Charles
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Waterson, Nigel
Flight, Howard Webb, Steve
Fox, Dr Liam Wells, Bowen
Fraser, Christopher Whittingdale, John
Gibb, Nick Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Gill, Christopher Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Green, Damian
Hammond, Philip Tellers for the Ayes:
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Mr. Eric Forth and
Leigh, Edward Mr. David Maclean.
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Allan, Richard Efford, Clive
Allen, Graham Etherington, Bill
Atkins, Charlotte Fearn, Ronnie
Baker, Norman Fitzpatrick, Jim
Ballard, Jackie Fitzsimons, Lorna
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Begg, Miss Anne Gapes, Mike
Beith, Rt Hon A J George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Betts, Clive Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Blackman, Liz Goggins, Paul
Blears, Ms Hazel Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Gunnell, John
Bradshaw, Ben Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Breed, Colin Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Hancock, Mike
Burden, Richard Hanson, David
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Harvey, Nick
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies Heppell, John
(NE Fife) Hope, Phil
Campbell—Savours, Dale Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Caplin, Ivor Hunghes, Ms Beverley Stretford)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Clark, Dr Lynda Hutton, John
(Edinburgh Pentlands) Iddon, Dr Brian
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Illsley, Eric
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Clelland, David Jamieson, David
Coaker, Vernon Jenkins, Brian
Cohen, Harry Johnson, Alan (Hill W & Hessle)
Connarty, Michael Johnson, Miss Melanie
Cotter, Brian (Welwyn Hatfield)
Cranston, Ross Jones, Ms Jenny
Cunliffe, Lawrence (Wolverh'ton SW)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Keeble, Ms Sally
Darvill, Keith Kemp, Fraser
Davey, Edward (Kingston) King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Dawson, Hilton Leslie, Christopher
Dean, Mrs Janet Levitt, Tom
Dowd, Jim Linton, Martin
Drew, David Livsey, Richard
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Lock, David Sheerman, Barry
McAvoy, Thomas Short, Rt Hon Clare
Mackinlay, Andrew Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McNamara, Kevin Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Mactaggart, Fiona Soley, Clive
McWaiter, Tony Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Mahon, Mrs Alice Stoate, Dr Howard
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Marshall—Andrews, Robert Stunell, Andrew
Maxton, John Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Merron, Gillian (Dewsbury)
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Moffatt, Laura Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Moran, Ms Margaret Tipping, Paddy
Naysmith, Dr Doug Todd, Mark
Oaten, Mark Tong, Dr Jenny
Olner, Bill Touhig, Don
Pickthall, Colin Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Pike, Peter L Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Pond, Chris Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Pope, Greg Tyler, Paul
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Walley, Ms Joan
Prescott, Rt Hon John Watts, David
Purchase, Ken Wills, Phil
Quinn, Lawrie Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Rendel, David Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Rowlands, Ted Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Salter, Martin Tellers for the Noes:
Sanders, Adrian Mr. Keith Hill and
Savidge, Malcolm Mr. Kevin Hughes.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question Put:

The Houses divided: Ayes 145, Noes 36.

Division No.197] 10.24 pm
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Allan, Richard Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Allen, Graham Dawson, Hilton
Atkins, Charlotte Dean, Mrs Janet
Baker, Norman Dismore, Andrew
Ballard, Jackie Donohoe, Brian H
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Dowd, Jim
Begg, Miss Anne Drew, David
Beith, Rt Hon A J Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Betts, Clive Eagle, Maria (L'Pool Garston)
Blackman, Liz Efford, Clive
Blears, Ms Hazel Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Etherington, Bill
Bradshaw, Ben Fearn, Ronnie
Breed, Colin Fitzpatrick, Jim
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Fitzsimons, Lorna
Burden, Richard Foster, Michael, Jabez (Hastings)
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Gapes, Mike
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies Gilroy, Mrs Linda
(NE Fife) Goggins, Paul
Campbell,-Savours, Dale Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Caplin, Ivor Gunnell, John
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hancock, Mike
Clelland, David Hanson, David
Coaker, Vernon Harvey, Nick
Cohen, Harry Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Connarty, Michael Heppell, John
Cotter, Brian Hope, Phill
Cranston, Ross Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Darvill, Keith Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Hutton, John Pope, Greg
Iddon, Dr Brian Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham M)
Illsley, Eric Prescott, Rt Hon John
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Purchase, Ken
Jamieson, David Quinn, Lewrie
Jenkins, Brian Rendel, David
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Rowlands, Ted
Johnson, Miss Melanie Russell, Bob (Colchester)
(Welwyn Hatfield) Salter, Martin
Jones, Ms Jenny Sanders, Adrian
(Wolverh'ton SW) Savidge, Malcolm
Keeble, Ms Sally Sheerman, Barry
Kemp, Fraser Simpson, Alan(Nottingham S)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Soley, Clive
Leslie, Christopher Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Levitt, Tom Stoate, Dr Howard
Linton, Martin Stuart, Ms Gisela
Livsey, Richard Stunell, Andrew
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Lock, David (Dewsbury)
McAvoy, Thomas Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Mackinlay, Andrew Thomas, Gareth, R (Harrow W)
McNamara, Kevin Tipping, Paddy
McNulty, Tony Todd, Mark
Mactaggart, Fiona Tonge, Dr Jenny
McWalter, Tony Touhig, Don
Mahon, Mrs Alice Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Maxton, John Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Merron, Gillian Tyler, Paul
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Walley, Ms Joan
Moffatt, Laura Watts, David
Moran, Ms Margaret Webb, Steve
Mullin, Chris Willis, Phil
Naysmith, Dr Doug Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Oaten, Mark Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Olner, Bill Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Pickthall, Colin Tellers for the Ayes:
Pike, Peter L Mr. Keith Hill and
Pond, Chris Mr. Kevin Hughes.
Amess, David Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Barnes, Harry Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Öpik. Lembit
Blunt, Crispin Plaskitt, James
Brady, Graham Randall, John
Colvin, Michael Robathan, Andrew
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
& Howden) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Flight, Howard Swayne, Desmond
Fox, Dr Liam Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Fraser, Christopher Taylore, Matthew (Truro)
Gibb, Nick Wardle, Charles
Gill, Christopher Waterson, Nigel
Gillen, Mrs Cheryl Whittingdale, John
Green, Damian Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Hammond, Philip Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Leigh, Edward Tellers for the Noes:
Lidington, David Mr. Eric Forth and
McIntosh, Miss Anne Mr. David Maclean.

Question accordingly agreed to.


That this House approves the Second Report from the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons on Sittings of the House in Westminster Hall (House of Commons Paper No. 194).

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Order [21 May]:

That in the next Session of Parliament the Standing Orders and practice of the House shall have effect subject to the modifications set out below:

  1. (1) On days on which the House shall sit there shall be a sitting in Westminster Hall—
    1. (a) on Tuesdays between ten o'clock and one o'clock;
    2. (b) on Wednesdays between half-past nine o'clock and two o'clock; and
    3. (c) on Thursdays beginning at half-past two o'clock and continuing for up to three hours (and in calculating that period no account shall be taken of any period during which the sitting may be suspended owing to a division being called in the House or a committee of the whole House).
  2. (2) Any Member of the House may take part in a sitting in Westminster Hall.
  3. (3) Subject to paragraph (12) below, the business taken at any sitting in Westminster Hall shall be such as the Chairman of Ways and Means shall appoint.
  4. (4) The Chairman of Ways and Means or a Deputy Chairman shall take the chair in Westminster Hall as Deputy Speaker; and the House may appoint not more than four other members of the Chairmen's Panel to sit in Westminster Hall as Deputy Speaker.
  5. (5) Any order made or resolution come to at a sitting in Westminster Hall (other than a resolution to adjourn) shall be reported to the House by the Deputy Speaker and shall be deemed to be an order or resolution of the House.
  6. (6) If a motion be made by a Minister of the Crown that an order of the day be proceeded with at a sitting in Westminster Hall, the question thereon shall be put forthwith, but such motion may be made only with the leave of the House and may not be made on a Friday.
  7. (7) The quorum at a sitting in Westminster Hall shall be three.
  8. (8) If at a sitting in Westminster Hall the opinion of the Deputy Speaker as to the decision of a question (other than a question for adjournment) is challenged, that question shall not be decided, and the Deputy Speaker shall report to the House accordingly; and any such question shall be put forthwith upon a motion being made in the House.
  9. (9) If any business other than a motion for adjournment is under consideration at a sitting in Westminster Hall, and not fewer than six Members rise in their places and signify their objection to further proceeding, that business shall not be further proceeded with in Westminster Hall, and the Deputy Speaker shall report to the House accordingly, and any order under paragraph (6) above relating thereto shall be discharged.
  10. (10) At the end of each sitting in Westminster Hall, unless a question for adjournment has previously been agreed to, the Deputy Speaker shall adjourn the sitting without putting any question; and proceedings on any business which has been entered upon but not disposed of shall lapse.
  11. (11) The provisions of Standing Orders No. 29 (Powers of chair to propose question), No. 36 (Closure of debate), No. 37 (Majority for closure or proposal of question), No. 38 (Procedure on divisions), No. 39 (Voting), No. 40 (Division unnecessarily claimed), No. 41 (Quorum), No. 43 (Disorderly conduct), No. 44 (Order in debate), No. 45 (Members suspended, &c. to withdraw from precincts), No. 45A (Suspension of salary of Members suspended) and No. 163 (Motions to sit in private) shall not apply to sittings in Westminster Hall.
  12. (12) The House shall meet on Wednesdays at half-past two o'clock, and paragraphs (1) and (2) of Standing Order No. 9 (Sittings of the House) shall have effect on Wednesdays; and Standing Order No. 10 (Wednesday sittings), so far as it relates to business taken before two o'clock, shall apply only to sitting in Westminster Hall, and shall have effect as if paragraph (3) were omitted.

The House divided: Ayes 132, Noes 26.

Division No. 198] [10.39 pm
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Jones, Ms Jenny
Allan, Richard (Wolverh'ton SW)
Allen, Graham Keeble, Ms Sally
Atkins, Charlotte Kemp, Fraser
Baker, Norman King, Ms Oona
Ballard, Jackie (Bethnal Green)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Begg, Miss Anne Leslie, Christopher
Beith, Rt Hon A J Levitt, Tom
Betts, Clive Linton, Martin
Blears, Ms Hazel Livsey, Richard
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Bradshaw, Ben McAvoy, Thomas
Breed, Colin Mackinlay, Andrew
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) McNulty, Tony
Burden, Richard Mactaggart, Fiona
Burnett, John McWalter, Tony
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Mahon, Mrs Alice
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies Maxton, John
(NE Fife) Merron, Gillian
Caplin Ivor Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Moran, Ms Margaret
Clark, Dr Lynda Mullin, Chris
(Edinburgh Pentlands) Mullin, Chris
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Oaten, Mark
Clelland, David Olner, Bill
Coaker, Vernon Pickthall, Colin
Cohen, Harry Pike, Peter L
Connarty, Michael Pond, Chris
Cotter, Brian Pope, Greg
Darvill, Keith Prentice, Ms Bridget
Davey, Edward (Kingston) (Lewisham E)
Davey, Valerie (Britol W) Purchase, Ken
Dawson, Hilton Quinn, Lawrie
Dismore, Andrew Rendel, David
Donohoe, Brian H Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Dowd, Jim Salter, Martin
Drew, David Sanders, Adrian
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Savidge, Malcolm
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Sheerman, Barry
Efford, Clive Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Etherington, Bill Soley, Clive
Fearn, Ronnie Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Fitzpatrick, Jim Stotate, Dr Howard
Fitzsimons, Lorna Stringer, Graham
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Gapes, Mike Stunell, Andrew
George, Bruce (Walsall S) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Gilroy, Mrs Linda (Dewsbury)
Goggins, Paul Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Tipping, Paddy
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Todd, Mark
Hancock, Mike Tonge, Dr Jenny
Harvey, Nick Touhig, Don
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Heppell, John Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) Twigg Stephen (Enfield)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Tyler, Paul
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Watts, David
Hutton, John Webb, Steve
Iddon, Dr Brian Willis, Phil
Illsley, Eric Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian Tellers for the Ayes:
Johnson, Miss Melanie Mr. David Hanson and
(Welwyn Hatfield) Mr. Keith Hill.
Amess, David McIntosh, Miss Anne
Barnes, Harry Öpik, Lembit
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Randall, John
Blunt, Crispin Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Brady, Graham Swayne, Desmond
Duncan Smith, Iain Wardle, Charles
Fox, Dr Liam Waterson, Nigel
Fraser, Christopher Whittingdale, John
Gibb, Nick Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Gill, Christopher Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Hammond, Philip
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Tellers for the Noes:
Leigh, Edward Mr. Eric Forth and
Lidington, David Mr. David Maclean.

Question accordingly agreed to.