HC Deb 19 December 2000 vol 360 cc204-5
43 Gillian Merron (Lincoln)

If she will make a statement on the proposals she plans to bring forward to the Modernisation Committee. [141607]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping)

The Modernisation Committee has proposed radical changes in relation to programming and deferred Divisions, which it will want to evaluate in due course. I understand that the Committee is likely to consider matters such as the use of laptops in Committee Rooms in the near future.

Gillian Merron

I welcome the steps that have been taken so far towards the more efficient running of Parliament, which many of my constituents are looking to us to achieve.

I emphasise the importance of pre-legislative scrutiny. Can we look forward to more Bills coming to the House in better shape before we debate them?

Mr. Tipping

One of the more important recommendations of the Modernisation Committee acknowledges that pre-legislative scrutiny can be helpful. It enables us to obtain responses from outside the House, and provides the opportunity for Select Committees to examine draft legislation. The Queen's Speech contained a number of draft Bills. I hope that we can all benefit from such scrutiny and become more efficient as a result of it.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

I wish to follow up the answer that the Minister has just given on the scope of the work of the Select Committees. Can the Modernisation Committee look again at the remit of the Select Committees? Several are not linked to Departments, which means that they can be very effective in crossing the boundaries between departmental interests. We should not have to wait until Whitehall sorts itself out. Pre-legislative scrutiny, in a general sense, was carried out in the preparation of the rural White Paper. A holistic approach was taken in that case, and there should be a holistic Select Committee to scrutinise it.

Mr. Tipping

The hon. Gentleman is a member of the Modernisation Committee, and pursues several of these matters vigorously. I make two points to him. The Select Committees have many powers, and are in a position to use them more widely. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that on some occasions Select Committees can meet jointly to examine issues, such as the rural and urban White Papers, that cross departmental boundaries.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Given the answer that my hon. Friend the Minister has just given about the use of laptops in Committee Rooms, would it be beneficial if the House set up one electronic Committee Room, with links to the parliamentary intranet? Such a Committee Room could also provide the means for electronic voting, which would allow us to see how it could operate on a wider basis.

Mr. Tipping

My hon. Friend is an influential member of the Chairmen's Panel and has great knowledge of these matters. The Modernisation Committee has considered that issue, and I shall draw its attention to his remarks.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

Can the hon. Gentleman understand what an affront it is that a Select Committee of the House dealing with matters relating to the Standing Orders and procedures of the House is chaired by—and questions such as those that we have heard this afternoon are answered by—a member of the Executive? Is it not an affront that last Session's sessional report on the Minutes of Proceedings of the Modernisation Committee—a riveting and very quick read for those looking for last-minute stocking fillers, at only £3.40—gives the dates of the Committee's sittings, the names of those who attended and then simply says, "The Committee deliberated"? The following month's minutes also state, "The Committee deliberated", as do the minutes for all the sittings.

Is it not an affront not only to the House but to our democracy that such a Committee is run by the Executive and that the Executive answers for it and produces this kind of a report? Should such a Committee not be in the hands of Back-Bench Members?

Mr. Tipping

I must say that I had hoped for something a little more exciting in my Christmas stocking.

The Modernisation Committee introduces proposals, and consists of hon. Members from both sides of the House. We have had vigorous, stimulating and—dare I say it—lengthy debates about the Committee's report. At the end of the day, these are matters for the House to decide.