HC Deb 23 May 2000 vol 350 cc859-60
34. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

If she will make a statement on the experimental sittings in Westminster Hall. [121912]

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

Sittings in Westminster Hall provide valuable opportunities for debates initiated by Back-Bench Members, for debates on Select Committee Reports and for debates on subjects for which we would not otherwise have found time on the Floor of the House. The Modernisation Committee will review the experiment later this Session.

Mr. Brady

Does the right hon. Lady agree that the sittings in Westminster Hall are putting increased pressure on members of the Chairmen's Panel and on Hansard? Does not the level of attendance at most debates in Westminster Hall suggest that there is very little interest among hon. Members? Is it not time that we thought again and started returning important business to this Chamber, where it belongs?

Mrs. Beckett

Of course the sittings in Westminster Hall do put extra pressure on members of the Chairmen's Panel and on Hansard, as any extra opportunity for debates is bound to do. The Modernisation Committee will look at attendance levels, but I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that debates in Westminster Hall are not required. When Westminster Hall was opened as a forum, thereby doubling the opportunities for Adjournment debates, demand for such debates more than doubled.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Is it not strange that the Opposition seem to want to avoid the opportunity to challenge the Executive? One minute they say that they want to question the Executive, but the next they want to eliminate their opportunities to do so.

Mrs. Beckett

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The Opposition are always complaining that there are too few opportunities for scrutiny, but they do not seem to want to take them up when we offer them.