HC Deb 25 May 2004 vol 421 cc1440-2
32. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC)

To ask the Leader of the House, what proposals he has to ensure greater representation of minority parties on departmental Select Committees. [175291]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Phil Woolas)

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is aware of the concerns of minority parties about their representation on departmental Select Committees and on other Committees. Progress has been made in addressing their concerns in a number of ways: for example, by accommodating their interests in the nomination for recent Joint Committees for pre-legislative scrutiny, and for Standing Committees on Bills and on Delegated Legislation.

Mr. Llwyd

I thank the Minister for his reply, but it did not address the question that I tabled on departmental Select Committees. At the moment, Labour is over-represented by three Members and the Liberal Democrats by two Members, but Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party are under-represented by two Members, which is not right in any democratic set-up. What progress has been made on giving us a place on the Liaison Committee?

Mr. Woolas

I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I accept that his concern is genuine. I could quibble over his arithmetic, but his general point is a valid one. I urge him to bear in mind the fact that Committees are established at the beginning of a Parliament, and the rules are set out in Standing Orders. I remind the House that the previous arrangement, whereby the minority parties were represented by the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, was changed at their instigation, and that that is now done by the Government Chief Whip, who is involved in discussions on the matter.

33. Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op)

To ask the Leader of the House if he will submit proposals to the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons to open the House to visitors on Saturdays. [175292]

(Mr. Peter Hain) The Leader of the House of Commons

The Modernisation Committee has considered the accessibility of the House to visitors as part of its inquiry into connecting Parliament with the public. The question whether the House should be open to visitors on Saturdays is also a matter for the Administration Committee, in the first instance, and for the House of Commons Commission.

Ms Munn

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Although Sheffield is less than 200 miles from London, the travelling time ranges between three and five hours. Even when the House sits at 2.30 pm, many of my constituents find it difficult to arrive in time for a proper tour around the House. Constituents throughout the United Kingdom, many of whom live much further away than Sheffield, should have more opportunities to visit the House, with or without their MPs.

Mr. Hain

I understand the force of my hon. Friend's argument, because my constituency is a similar distance from Parliament, and visitors travelling by coach have to set off at about 5 am. I am pleased by the way in which the new visitors' services manager has taken on that question—for example, we have agreed an earlier 9 am start for tours, and Member-guided tours starting at 8 am are being planned. He also ensures that, where possible, priority for tour slots later in the day is given to those travelling from constituencies furthest away from Westminster. Given the security implications, however, whether it would be cost-effective and sensible to open on Saturdays is an issue. Owing to the efforts of the Central Tours Office, numbers on Member-guided tours in the first three months of this year have increased by 9,500 over the equivalent period last year.