HC Deb 14 November 2000 vol 356 cc800-2
Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes)

What proposals she plans to bring before the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons; and if she will make a statement. [136368]

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

The Modernisation Committee has produced radical changes to our business. I anticipate that in the near future it will be chiefly concerned with monitoring those changes. Some other suggestions, including electronic voting in the Lobby, are being considered.

Mr. Baker

I intend no discourtesy to you, Mr. Speaker, or to your colleagues, but is it not appropriate for the Modernisation Committee to consider the method of election of the Speaker—and, perhaps more importantly, of the Deputy Speakers? Yesterday a Deputy Speaker emerged—Vatican-style, with white smoke—into the Chair. I make no comment on her appropriateness, but I think that hon. Members should have an opportunity to vote on such matters.

Mr. Tipping

As always, Mr. Speaker, Vatican-style elections yield the correct result. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Procedure Committee is currently considering the matter and taking evidence. The proposal is for a joint meeting of the Procedure Committee and the Modernisation Committee.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Is my hon. Friend aware that of the six hours that it took to elect you, Mr. Speaker, two were taken up with traipsing through the Lobbies? Is he also aware that our decision last week to take on a Wednesday afternoon votes that would have taken place after 10 o'clock means that we could spend considerable time—wasted time, in my view—traipsing through the Lobbies on a Wednesday? Is it not urgent that the Modernisation Committee should consider electronic voting and introduce it as soon as possible?

Mr. Tipping

I hope that not only the Modernisation Committee but all hon. Members will have the opportunity to consider electronic voting. An initiative that I anticipate will come to fruition very soon is an exhibition upstairs in the Upper Waiting Hall, which will allow hon. Members to look at the technology and discuss it.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

Whatever the merits or demerits of these so-called radical reforms in our procedures, do the Government intend to reverse the situation that exists on a Thursday afternoon, whereby this House meets in two different places at the same time? Is that not an absurd anomaly?

Mr. Tipping

The hon. Gentleman, and all hon. Members, will have an opportunity to discuss those issues. There are different views. I believe that Westminster Hall, and earlier starts on a Thursday, are for the benefit of the House, but the House will have the benefit of that discussion, and a vote, on Monday.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

Does the Minister understand the concern felt, especially among Conservative Members, that we need to do more than simply monitor the Modernisation Committee's proposals, and that there is serious unfinished business? For a start, the House has yet to vote on the question of Select Committees. I hope that he will assure the House that we will have an opportunity to vote on Select Committees, on the Floor of the House, before he starts his monitoring.

Mr. Tipping

The hon. Lady took part in the debate last Thursday on the Liaison Committee's report. In my winding-up speech I said that when the dust had settled and people had had an opportunity to consider the arguments, and when the Government had had the opportunity to listen, we would review the way forward.

44. Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)

If she will make a statement on the Government's response to proposals from the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons. [136369]

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

The Government usually respond to reports from the Modernisation Committee by inviting the House to agree to changes in procedure. Sessional Orders implementing the most recent proposals were agreed by the House last week. To date, the overwhelming majority of the Committee's proposals have been implemented.

Mr. McCabe

Does my hon. Friend agree that pre-legislative scrutiny is one measure that can lead to more considered and better quality legislation, and perhaps remove some of the more petty elements from our scrutiny system? Will he do everything he can to extend such scrutiny where appropriate?

Mr. Tipping

Like my hon. Friend, I am very clear that pre-legislative scrutiny has been valuable. I hope that the House will have opportunities in the not too distant future to do much more of it. I hope that in the course of time, a vast amount of pre-legislative scrutiny can take place.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

How many times in the past have major changes to the procedures of the House been introduced which have not been reached through consensus?

Mr. Tipping

Major changes are agreed by hon. Members themselves, on a free vote. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not proposing that a small group of Members, including some of his colleagues, should be able to veto proposals that find consent among the majority of the House.