HC Deb 21 March 2000 vol 346 cc852-4
47. Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

If she will make a statement on progress in the modernisation of the House. [114059]

48. Dr George Turner (North West Norfolk)

What assessment she has made of the impact of recommendations of the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons on the operation of the House. [114060]

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

The great majority of the Modernisation Committee's recommendations that were directed at Government have already been implemented. I hope that the House will agree that those changes have increased the House's ability to hold Government to account, increased opportunities for debate and enabled the working week to be better balanced between Westminster and constituency work.

Mr. MacShane

I thank my hon. Friend. Does he agree that now that "News at Ten" has been abolished, the 19th century habit of endless votes after 10 pm could also go? Hon. Members could have a night's sleep and debate matters during the day.

Will my hon. Friend also consider modernising the facilities for our friends, the gentlemen and ladies of the press? It may be an axiom of political journalism that the nicer we are to the journalists, the nastier they are to us. In the spirit, however, of kissing the hand that slaps us, and as their working conditions are worse than those of battery hens, might it not be that if we improved those conditions, the journalists would stop writing like battery hens about us?

Mr. Tipping

My hon. Friend can consider the matter from both sides of the fence in his professional life. I know that he is a specialist in nastiness, both in the press and, occasionally, in the House. However, he is right; we need to respond to the needs of people who work in the House. I am delighted that members of the Lobby are allowed to have tape recorders in the Press Gallery and that the Administration Committee has allowed filming in Members' offices as a result of representations.

Dr Turner

Does my hon. Friend agree that the extra debating time available in Westminster Hall has meant that, for the first time in many years, there have been significant opportunities to debate Select Committee reports? Does he also agree that we need to enhance further the role of Select Committees, and that careful consideration should be given to the recommendations of the Select Committee on Liaison?

Mr. Tipping

My hon. Friend has used the facilities of Westminster Hall assiduously to advance the cause of his constituency. As he points out, 150 extra Back-Bench debates are possible because of Westminster Hall. It is now possible to discuss an extra 18 Select Committee reports. I am sure that he realises that the Liaison Committee report has only just been received, but the Government will consider it carefully and report according to normal practice.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

May I urge the Minister to encourage the Modernisation Committee to consider the timetabling of oral questions? Seven o'clock has been suggested, but in this day and age there is no reason why the time could not be extended until the end of the parliamentary day. Furthermore, we could shorten the cut-off time for the tabling of questions.

Mr. Tipping

I made it clear in my earlier answer that such matters are not set in stone. The Select Committee on Procedure examined that point in 1991 and in 1993. Given the advance of technology, it may be possible to change the cut-off time. If hon. Members make representations on the matter, they will be considered.

Mr. William Cash (Stone)

In the context of the modernisation of the House, will the Minister examine the Whip system, as currently used by the Government, to consider whether it contributes to control freakery, to too much centralisation in No. 10 Downing street and to the emasculation of the British Parliament?

Mr. Tipping

I am sure that, given the hon. Gentleman's experience in the previous Parliament, he knows all that there is to know about the benefits and disbenefits of the Whip system.